Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Briefing

May 16, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, May 16, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Why the reality of implicit racial bias is even more true than the secular world can grasp

Cultures, as well as individuals and groups, grapple with huge issues with the intellectual tools that are accessible to them. So as we’re watching America’s secular culture try to deal with huge questions on secular terms, we understand that the intellectual tools that are available for people in that kind of discussion are inherently limited. This is where Christians need to pay close attention to those kinds of controversies and conversations, but it’s also where Christians need to understand at every moment that we are operating from a different world view, from a different set of presuppositions.

Now, one of the things that Christians may be tempted to do is to look at some conversations and say, “That conversation is not going well; therefore, we should not be a part of that conversation.” But that’s the wrong instinct. Christians looking at that kind of conversation, especially perhaps the conversations that are not going well in secular terms, need to be there to enter into the conversation as Christians, thinking as Christians, under the authority of scripture, by the power of Christ and the gospel. We enter into conversations with a set of intellectual tools that secular people do not have.

Now, at times, that secular conversation wants to cut itself off from any kind of Christian intervention or any kind of Christian contribution. That’s understandable. A secular society grows evermore allergic to Christian conviction and evermore resistant to Christian conversation or Christian argument. But again, that should be a trigger of sorts to tell us that that’s exactly where we need to enter into the conversation.

Let’s look at a recent conversation that demands that kind of Christian thinking. Last Friday on the editorial page of USA Today, Derrick Johnson, who is the president and CEO of the NAACP, wrote a piece that was entitled, “Everyone Should be Tested for Implicit Bias.” He says that this is necessary before the next videos from Yale or Starbucks. He begins writing, “Everyone should get tested for implicit bias, and if you’re a pubic official or receiving public dollars, it should be mandatory. It’s just a matter of time,” he says, “before another black person is abused, arrested, or shot dead for flying, golfing, driving, walking, or drinking coffee while black.”

It’s a powerful column. The head of the NAACP cites recent controversy concerning the arrest of two black men in a Starbucks. He refers to the decision by Starbucks to close for a few hours in order to train employees and staff in implicit bias and racism. He then writes, “We commend Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson for his deliberate speed in taking steps that many a Fortune 500 company would fear. At the same time,” writes Johnson, “We ask, why is our society continually placing training on unconscious and implicit bias into a red box that says ‘Break only in case of emergency?’ when we know,” he says, “that it’s just a matter before another incident is caught on video and made public?”

In making his argument, Johnson goes on to write, “America still grapples with the intense labor pains necessary for giving birth to an ever-elusive colorblind society, and the problem of the color line remains, like stagnant water polluting our ideals of justice and meritocracy.” In eloquent prose, he goes on to say, “It’s a conundrum wrapped inside a ball of hate, explicit bias, racism, microaggressions and subconscious fears, that can only be unraveled through our nation staring down face to face its problem with racism, whether expressed explicitly or implicitly.”

He goes on to cite well-documented cases of racial disparity. He points again to what he identifies as implicit bias, and then he writes, “The resources to test for unconscious biases already exit. More than 6 million people,” he writes, “have taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test with varying levels of unexpected bias being revealed. The NAACP,” he concludes, “is calling for an expansion of the movement to demand mandatory testing for implicit bias, particularly for officials paid with public dollars. For major corporations,” he writes, “implicit bias training must become a part of corporate responsibility rather than a response to videotaped intolerance.”

He concludes, “This is the beginning of a movement designed to awaken the soul of our nation in ways that not only make us better people, but also a society where we are accountable both for what we know and what we are unaware of.”

Now, in just a few hundred words, well-timed, in Friday’s edition of USA Today, the head of the NAACP has put a great deal of material on our table. He has marked a great many issues for national conversation, and clearly the conversation preceded the column and will continue after it. What’s most newsworthy in this column by Derrick Johnson is the fact that the head of the NAACP is explicitly calling for mandatory implicit bias testing. He says it should be mandatory for American businesses. He says it should be mandatory for any public official or anyone receiving public dollars.

The main attention to the column published last Friday in other media is the fact that Johnson is calling for testing that would be mandatory. But of course, for Christians, the big moral context here is racism. And we understand from biblical revelation that racism is one of the most insidious sins we can imagine, insidious not only because of the denial of common humanity that is at the very heart of sin, but it is also because the effects of racism are so deadly and so devastating generation by generation.

We also understand as Christians that racism isn’t unique to any particular people at any particular time. East of Eden, outside the garden, humanity is racist. Humanity is violent. Humanity as we see so early with Cain and Abel, is murderous. Humanity is unjust. All the sins of humanity emerge over and over again in the unfolding human story, and this would include not only sins of violence, but sins of lust and every other sin we can imagine.

Some Christians looking at this kind of cultural conversation would argue we need to just stay away from it, because the vocabulary employed here has roots in ideological Marxism. Well, there’s some truth to that statement. Marxism is at its very base a form a cultural analysis, and a part of that cultural analysis is a vocabulary about human bias and prejudice and oppression that does find its way into the literature about racism and the literature about explicit in implicit bias.

But this is also where Christians operating from an explicitly biblical world view will almost always see more and never less than someone operating from a secular ideology will see. The Marxists, looking at what they identified as both explicit and implicit bias, applying their ideology in the only way they had with the only tools that were accessible to them, given their own ideological presuppositions, and so they look at this as merely a social dynamic. This is where Christians understand that racism and every other form of sin find its root not in the unfolding dialectic of history, not in oppression between classes, but rather in the human heart.

But this is where Christians, looking at the secular conversation, recognize that we do see a great deal more here than the secular world view or a secular ideology can deliver. We do understand the reality of racism, but we root it in the sinfulness of the human heart and we see it unfold in history, but racism can’t be blamed on history. Rather, racism emerges from human sin, from the sinfulness of the human heart, and like every other form of sin, which the Bible says is crouching at the door, like every other form of sin, it is far more seductive and far more deceptive than we would like to think.

So a part of the analysis behind this column by the head of the NAACP in USA Today is the fact that bias, and this means explicitly racist bias in this context, can take the form of both explicit bias and implicit bias. Now, that’s a secular analysis. Is it true or is it false? Clearly, it is true. And this is where Christians understand that based upon biblical revelation it’s even more true than a secular understanding can grasp. We are talking about the fact that sin is so deceptive and the realities of sin are so deeply rooted within us, that we as sinners are actually without God’s intervention, without the light of scripture, and without the ministry of the holy spirit. Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, we cannot even come to an accurate calculation of our sin, an accurate recognition of our sin.

The argument behind this column is that explicit bias is clearly evil and it’s understood by society to be evil, but perhaps even more dangerous is unconscious or implicit racism or implicit bias. It’s more dangerous, it’s argued, precisely because it operates at a pre-intellectual level. That’s the big issue. Much of our thinking is pre-intellectual. We operate on the basis of impulses and intuitions and practices, and yes, even prejudices that are so deeply ingrained within us that we do not see it.

The point being made here by the CEO of the NAACP is that white Americans have an implicit bias to favor other white Americans at the expense of black Americans, that we have the bias to privilege those who have lighter skin over those who have darker skin. Now, this is where Christians, looking at this kind of accusation, say, “There has to be something to this, simply because of the nature of sin revealed in scripture,” and furthermore, we find revealed in scripture a certain form of sin, which means we are more likely to trust and to like and to give privilege to those who look like us rather than those who do not look like us.

Now, here again, we have to understand, this is a human problem. Is it an American problem? Yes. Is it a white American problem? Profoundly. Is it a human problem everywhere? Yes. But our responsibility is to deal with the manifestation of sin and injustice in our times, and especially with our own complicity, conscious or unconscious.

So as much as someone would be tempted very strongly just to dismiss this entire argument or to avoid the entire conversation, when we see something like this, we need to recognize we really do know there’s even more here than what this secular conversation reveals.

Part II

Understanding the inevitable implicit bias in tests for implicit bias

But then we need to ask another question. Would it then be possible to test for implicit bias? Would it be possible to create some kind of instrument that would reveal patterns of sin that might be invisible to us? The answer is almost assuredly, again, yes, there could be many kinds of tools that would simply reveal to us that there are patterns to our intuition, patterns to our practice, patterns to our prejudice, that we otherwise had not seen.

Well, then, the question comes, directly as posed in this column, should we make such testing mandatory, and if so, what would we do with that testing? Should government officials be required to take such a test, or those who receive government funding? That’s the argument in this column. Or perhaps employers should make such testing mandatory, as well.

But this is where Christians have to understand that as useful as such an idea like this might be, or even a test like this conceivably could be, we also have to keep in mind that the test would be created by sinful human beings. And furthermore, a test to test sin would be itself at leas compromised by the fact that sinful human beings are here trying to evaluate just how sin works in other human beings, as well as themselves, and sin is going to corrupt or at least to distort every part of the equation.

So one Christians observation even at this point is to know that even as explicit and implicit bias and racism are real, it’s not going to be quite so easy to evaluate that reality, and certainly to reduce it to something that would be a test with a score. Here’s the other issue. If you’re looking at creating this test, how exactly are you going to identify this kind of bias? Clearly the bias is wrong. Clearly racism is sin and it’s evil.

But is that something that can be quantifiable? Again, I’m not denying that such a test might be useful, but the argument in this article is that a particular test should be mandatory. But here’s the problem. As we look to this test, I went to the website of the Harvard Implicit Association Test. So good so far. It’s not just one test, it turns out; it’s several instruments. And indeed, one of the instruments is to measure implicit bias on questions related to the black/white equation. It’s labeled “Race”.

Other instruments also a part of the Harvard Implicit Association Test measure what’s claimed to be implicit bias on questions such as disability, American presidents, Arab Muslim divides, Native Americans, skin tone, religion, weight, weapons, gender, and career, implicit bias about Asian Americans, age and ageism, and there’s race, and then come to others, sexuality and gender/science. Well, once you look at the entire set of instruments, it becomes clear someone’s world view is establishing the realities to be claimed by and the bias supposedly to be measured by these particular instruments. The instruments are not value neutral. The instruments themselves are making an argument. And very clearly, when you look at the instrument testing for implicit bias on sexuality, it is clear that the only right answers are answers completely in line with the LGBTQ revolution.

There are other issues. Virtually a decade ago in 2008, John Tierney, writing the science column for the New York Times, drew attention to the idea of implicit bias, again, a decade ago, and he also drew attention to this kind of testing. It already existed 10 years ago. And he wrote about the huge questions, moral and scientific, about the utility of such testing. Interestingly, the immediate historical context for John Tierney’s article was the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Widespread implicit bias testing, at least as claimed by researchers, indicated that President Obama could not be elected, but of course he was, indicating that Americans were willing to vote in ways that were not consistent with what researchers had claimed was the implicit bias.

But Tierney pointed out that there is no causation that can be tracked to this kind of testing on implicit bias. Furthermore, referencing the very same test, the very same Harvard instrument that the head of the NAACP pointed to just last Friday, he points to the fact that the same individual taking the test on different days can come up with very different results. Tierney pointed out back in 2008 that the problem with using this kind of test is if it can be translated into public policy, is that the test itself turns out to be largely inadequate in its predictive ability, and it’s not often adequately replicated in results.

But there’s another factor that also comes into this. Any morally sensitive person taking this kind of instrument can figure out pretty quickly how the individual is supposed to answer the questions. This is referred to in social science as social desirability bias. There’s another bias. And this is the bias to answer questions in ways that other people expect you to answer them. That is the bias that is cooked into all the current surveying and polling in which we know that people often answer the question based on what they believe is supposed to be the right answer, without any real respect to their own beliefs or convictions.

So putting all this together, it is clear that this is one of those cultural conversations that cannot and, frankly, should not be avoided. This is where Christians go into the conversation armed with a far deeper understanding of racism as sin than merely racism as a secular phenomenon. This is where Christians go into the equation knowing that the problem is rooted in the human heart, not merely in the unfolding dialectic of history, not merely in the headlines.

But this is where Christians also understand that sin is so deceptive and insidious, so deeply ingrained and so tenacious, that there is no way that we can test ourselves out of the problem that is actually sin. That doesn’t mean that there could never be a testing instrument that could be helpful. We’re not claiming that at all. But we are affirming that a quick look at this website reminds us that someone and someone’s world view will be behind how that test is constructed and how the questions and answers are evaluated.

Would it be a good thing or a bad thing for Christians to come increasingly and self-consciously to terms with implicit bias that takes the form of sin in our own lives, in our own thinking, in our own pre-intellectual activities, in our own responses and emotions? Of course that would be good. Is this a conversation Christians should have with even more urgency than the world has? Yes. In the fellowship of the local church, should Christians continually test each other on these issues as we pray together and work together and witness together? Of course we should. In the exposition of scripture, should preachers draw attention to the manifestations of sin, including the reality of sin as racism, explicit and implicit? Of course preachers should. Is this a conversation that in a secular culture can go in a thousand wrong directions? Of course it can.

But here, Christians simply have to humble ourselves and recognize that we can’t take full responsibility for the cultural conversation, but we must take full responsibility for the conversation that takes place in Christ Church.

Part III

The ad-hoc nature of meaning in a secular age as seen in the wedding announcements of the New York Times

Next, as we are considering cultural analysis week by week, the Sunday edition of the New York Times brings a relationship section, including columns that are simply identified as “Vows”. One of the cultural barometers was just how quickly the New York Times came to offer this kind of placement in the newspaper for same-sex marriage on par with the marriage of a man and a woman. That’s something that we had noted some years ago, and the New York Times, if anything, has only gone through its internal angst for not getting to that new policy fast enough, joining the sexual revolution quickly enough.

But we often make the point that the secular revolution could not happen without the secular rising of the culture. And in an odd way, this past Sunday’s edition of the New York Times made that point in columns that most people probably would never read in the wedding announcements of the previous several days in the New York Times. The interesting thing, how many of the officiating ministers aren’t really ministers of any Christians denomination, or for that matter, of any organized religion at all. This is the ad hoc nature, the artificial plastic nature of meaning in a secular age.

For example, there’s a man and a woman on page 17 of the New York Times who got married. Who performed the marriage? A Universal Life minister, who became such a minister for this event. That is something of a just-add-water-and-stir ordination, good just long enough to be the legal officiant at a wedding.

Just two columns over, another man and another woman. They were married by the bride’s brother-in-law, who, and I quote from the New York Times, “became ordained by the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, in order to officiate.” That was on page 17 of the print edition.

On page 18 of this section, there’s another man and another woman who were married. In this case, the officiating minister was, “ordained through the American Fellowship Church.” Again, apparently another just-add-water-and-stir kind of ordination, a secular ordination of sorts, that is rooted in some kind of historic religious language in order to provide some kind of adequate majesty to the one who was going to officiate at a wedding.

But majesty and legitimacy actually can’t be much of a concern, not when one of these three ministers was ordained for the occasion by the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. So from a world-view analysis, what are we looking at here? Well, oddly enough, we’re looking at the fact that even a hyper-secular age, when it comes to events as central and meaningful as funerals and weddings, tend to want someone who is a reverend or a pastor or a minister or a rabbi of one sort or another. But in this confused secular age, that one sort or another is becoming extremely assorted.

According to the website of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, you just might live in a state where an ordination from the Church of the Latter-Day Dude will do just fine to perform weddings, in which case you are known officially as a Dudeist priest. Another observation is that many of the people in the other wedding announcements who are identified as officiants, so some kind of religious title, well, it’s really clear, there’s not much religion of any sort behind the title. We are in a day in which the only real recognizable title that occurs over and over again in these wedding announcements is rabbi. But you probably won’t have to wait long before there is a Dudeist synagogue to offer such ordination, as well.

Part IV

Why is the popularity of biblical names declining for girls but not for boys?

But one final observation, last we turn to a headline news story in USA Today over the weekend. It tells us of the most popular baby names of 2017. It turns out that the most popular name for boys was Liam. The most popular name for girls was Emma. The girls’ name in order are: Emma, Olivia, Ava, Isabella, Sophia, Mia, Charlotte, Amelia, Evelyn, and Abigail. That’s the top 10. The top 10 for boys: Liam, Noah, William, James, Logan, Benjamin, Mason, Elijah, Oliver, and Jacob.

Several observations about ethnic backgrounds and national identity and the popularization of certain names, they’ve been discussed in the media, but I noted something that hasn’t been discussed. You look at those lists. The 10 most popular girl names and the 10 most popular boy names for the year 2017 in the United States of America, what’s really interesting is the secularization of the girl names. Only one of the names in the top 10 is biblical, and that’s the name Abigail, at number 10. On the other hand, what does it tell us that of the top 10 names for boys in the United States in 2017, fully half are biblical names? Noah, James, Benjamin, Elijah, and Jacob.

Frankly, I’m not sure all this means, but there is over time greater stability to the names of boys and men than to the names of girls; that is, first names. And it probably does say something very important that when it comes to naming boys, in the top 10 names are five from the Bible. Every one of them, we should note, a biblical character for whom a child, a boy child, right now, is rightly named.

But the Bible also offers us so many worthy women and names of women, and that would include, of course, Abigail, but in this case, Abigail is the only biblical name that made the list for girls. And even if no one else has seemed to take notice of this pattern, I think at least we should.

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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