Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Briefing

May 31, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, May 31, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Missouri governor’s resignation proves that the combination of sex, money, and power is a dangerous cocktail

The New Testament warns us of three enemies of Christian faithfulness. The world, the flesh and the devil. Similarly, looking around the world we can also see three very big biblical concerns. Those are sex and money and power. All three are treated so seriously in Scripture and a serious moral consideration of all three is always necessary on the part of the people of God.

We also understand that regardless of one’s worldview it turns out that there must be the acknowledgement that when you add sex and money and power you have created a very dangerous indeed explosive cocktail. Recent headlines throughout the media, a bipartisan set of headlines makes this very abundant. For example, on Tuesday of this week the governor of Missouri Eric Greitens announced that he will after saying he would not resign from office, he will resign as the governor of Missouri at five o’clock local time on Friday. And of course this headline news brings to an end or at least we would expect an end to one of the most promising political careers in recent history.

Eric Greitens’ had an almost picture-perfect resume as he ran for public office in Missouri. A former Navy SEAL, he’d also been a Rhode Scholar at Oxford University burnishing his humanitarian credentials he had served as a volunteer in the ministry of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In his military service he had received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was elected as the Republican governor of Missouri and he was elected at least in the eyes of the voters as something of a white knight who had come in as a man of integrity and experience and intellect and conviction. But as it turned out, Eric Greitens would be just the latest of America’s major political figures to be felled by a major sexual scandal.

As Sean Sullivan reported for The Washington Post on Wednesday, “Missouri governor Eric Greitens announced that he will resign amid explosive personal and political scandals that marred his once promising career in public office and threatened to drag down the Republican Party in the midterm elections.” Sullivan went on to report, “In a brief and defiant statement at the governor’s office, Greitens said his resignation will be effective on Friday at 5PM, ‘I am not perfect but I have not broken any laws.’ According to the constitutional process in Missouri, current lieutenant governor Mike Parson will become the governor of the state. If he chooses he can run for election to that office in the fall of 2020.”

The morally most significant factor in the opening sentences of this report in The Washington Post are the description of the governor’s announcement that he would finally resign as both brief and defiant. Defiant, that raises a very interesting question. Against whom is the governor here being defiant? Well, he has claimed he is basically a victim of his political enemies. But let’s note, he has not denied that he had carried on an extramarital affair during the very weeks he was running for governor. As the Washington Post summarized the scandal, Greitens has faced allegations that he initiated unwanted sexual contact with a woman who worked as his hairdresser and improperly used a charity donor list, state lawmakers said the Post called a special session this month to consider impeaching Greitens.

So this brief but defiant statement of resignation was made by the governor as he faced the reality, probably the likelihood of impeachment undertaken by the legislature there in Missouri. In an interesting report from a foreign periodical, The Economist of London referring to the upcoming impeachment hearings said that according to Missouri’s constitution, elected officials can be impeached for and here’s the direct quote, “crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglectful duty, corruption in office, incompetency or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.”

Now one of the interesting defenses offered by the governor of Missouri is that the sexual affair and other offenses with which he was charged had taken place before he was elected governor raising the constitutional question as to whether or not a sitting governor could be impeached even for criminal activity that took place before he took office. The resignation statement issued on Tuesday means that the state will avoid having to deal with that constitutional question. But what’s also interesting is to look at that Constitutional language and see two words which have a very important moral history. Those words are moral turpitude.

Now these days, those vocabulary words are what mostly in a news story like this or in a reference to some kind of older Constitutional language. But the very idea of moral turpitude is deeply rooted in the Christian worldview, even is recognized in secular authorities shaped by Christianity. It is the fact that moral corruption can be so insidious that it can make impossible the conducting of any public leadership or influence. What is so deeply disappointing in the statement from the governor on Tuesday is the fact that he continues in moral defiance.

As The Post reports, “For months Republicans and Democrats have called on Greitens to step down but he defied their calls and cast himself as the target of an unjust political attack.” The Post went on to say, “In stepping down Tuesday, he presented himself as a victim despite criticism he has received from across the political spectrum. In his brief but defiant statement trying to paint himself as a victim, the governor said on Tuesday, ‘This ordeal has been designed to cause an incredible amount of strain on my family, millions of dollars of mounting legal bills, endless personal attacks designed to cause maximum damage to family and friends.'”

What Christians to see here so clearly is the fact that in this statement that even The Washington Post recognizes as defiant. Even when it’s rightly described here that the governor is trying to present himself as a victim, governor Greitens effectively avoided taking any personal responsibility. He painted the scandals as entirely the work of his political enemies. He spoke quite accurately of the fact that grave damage has been done to his personal reputation and to his family but he takes no moral responsibility himself. That itself is scandalous. And of course we’re looking at behavior that is not only obviously immoral but maybe with several specific charges also illegal.

The Democratic Party in Missouri is expected to make much of this scandal even after the governor’s resignation on Friday. In a sinful world, that’s the way politics works, we shouldn’t be that surprised. But this is a bipartisan scandal that is nationwide. We have seen figure after figure fall, major political figures and there have been Democrats as well as Republicans. On the Democratic side there’s an additional moral angle, since so many liberal politicians, many prominent Democrats have been campaigning and crusading on these very issues. That’s why it was very interesting just a few days ago that the New York Times ran an article, a full page article with the headline Sex and the Liberal Politician.

Ginia Bellafante writing in The New York Times began with these words, “In New York, the week of May 7 began with the sudden resignation of the state’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman over allegations that he had physically abused four women he had been seeing and ended with the conviction of Sheldon Silver, a fellow Democrat who was once the powerful state assembly speaker on federal corruption charges.” “Although,” she says, “Not necessarily an ordinary week, it was certainly a symbolic one.” She then writes these words and I quote, “Abuses of power sexual and ethical have supplied the arc of the state’s political narrative for so long that it is hard to know how New York has managed to market itself as a standard bearer of an imperious kind of liberal virtue.”

Bellafante went on to suggest that New York has somehow convinced the nation or at least liberals in the nation that it’s the center of political resistance while many of the state’s political leaders are shown all too little moral resistance. When we’re thinking about political leaders, in states like New York as in California, we’re actually talking about overwhelmingly Democratic political leaders. The most interesting aspect of this article as we think in Christian worldview analysis is the fact that Ginia Bellafante deals explicitly with what she identifies as moral compartmentalism, that is the separation morally of one’s public and private lives. This has been carried on by many politicians throughout history but it has become a particularly excruciating problem in the Democratic Party and on the political left.

That the pattern is taking place on the liberal wing of American politics is what’s really interesting because especially so many of the politicians who were at the college and university in the 60’s and 70’s, they joined the sexual revolution with enthusiasm. They have been major proponents of the moral revolution across an arc of issues now including the LGBTQ issues. But they have also in their private lives indicated a very different kind of morality than what they have been preaching in public and offering as public policy.

She suggests Democrats were particularly schooled in this kind of political compartmentalization during the years of the Clinton scandals. This is when President Bill Clinton was himself the subject of the same kind of scandals but even though he was impeached by the House of Representatives he was not removed by conviction of the U.S. Senate. He went on to serve two full terms as president and many of his Democratic protectors at the time criticized his personal moral behavior in the sexual scandals but argued that that was overwhelmed by the effectiveness of his policy and his political leadership. Now the Democratic Party is arguing against that very form of compartmentalization. But it has not been a smooth argument.

That point was made recently by Newsweek magazine in an article entitled Party Foul, the subtext of the article, for all its righteousness and commendable outrage over the Eric Schneiderman scandal the Democrats’ grasp on moral superiority is tenuous. The Newsweek article reports, “The question now is how much voters have changed. Since October 2017, women who have come forward with allegations against powerful men in a variety of industries are finally being heard. Some commentators,” says Newsweek, “Claim that women have only now become emboldened to speak up. That’s not true,” said Newsweek. “Women have been speaking for decades. The public has only just decided to listen and Democrats hope they will vote accordingly.”

But then Newsweek goes on and I quote, “But for all its righteous and commendable outrage over Schneiderman, the party’s grasp of moral superiority is tenuous. Before #MeToo,” said the magazine, “It routinely dismissed Bill Clinton’s accusers as politically motivated and it’s recent reckoning within its own ranks, first with Michigan Representative John Conyers, then Minnesota Senator Al Franken was clumsy and cringeworthy. Now,” Newsweek says, “Party leaders are again hedging on whether to take away power from one of their own.” And then Newsweek pointed to a controversy concerning California representative Tony Cardenas.

But before leaving the New York Times Bellafante article, I want to go back to something else she documents. This is very interesting. She writes, “New York is far less progressive on gender issues than it is in its own imagination. Only 27% of members of the state legislature are female which puts New York ahead of Wyoming where the figure is 1% but significantly behind Arizona which has a 41% representation. The child victims act which would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations regarding child sex abuse cases has still not passed the New York legislature. The Senate has failed to pass a civil rights bill for transgender people at a moment when the Trump administration is trying to roll back protections for them.” That’s the language of the New York Times.

What’s interesting and most significant here is that you have a liberal newspaper and a liberal leaning article making clear that liberals on the political spectrum have an increasingly difficult time living up to their own preaching on morality. But this is where we also have to go back to the basically bipartisan pattern and recognize that the preaching may be different, the emphases of the moral proclamations may be different, but it turns out that politicians in both parties have had a very difficult time holding themselves to the very morality that they preach and promote in policy.

Part II

Why Christians should reject any deal that holds onto power at the expense of truth, goodness, and morality

Then this takes us to an even more important article that appeared recently in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. It’s a report on a conversation between Jason Willick and James Davidson Hunter, one of the majors collar’s looking at moral and cultural change in the United States over the last several decades. The headline in the weekend interview is this, The Man Who Discovered Culture Wars. And then Willick goes on to say that James Davidson Hunter of the University of Virginia coined the phrase in 1991 ahead of Pat Buchanan he says. Now he reflects on how the struggle has evolved over three decades.

Virtually every sentence in this article is worthy of our consideration but for the purposes of this conversation, the most important issue is to recognize that James Davidson Hunter has understood that moral change in America has meant different things for conservatives and liberals. He went to Germany in 1991 and borrowed the term from Otto Von Bismarck of a Kulturkampf in Germany, a cultural struggle and James Davidson Hunters simply rephrase that as a culture war. That term is now rather indispensable regardless of where one stands on America’s moral or political spectrum. There’s the recognition that there is a very deep divide between moral conservatives and moral liberals and that divide has often come into cultural conflict, thus the Kulturkampf, the culture war.

But as James Davidson Hunter has been observing this kind of pattern over the last several decades, he has noted something very interesting when it comes to the intersection of money and power and sexuality. When it comes to the intersection of sexual issues and public policy, moral issues and the direction of the culture. Hunter then goes on to make the very interesting observation that moral conservatives in the United States have become politicized. They have turned to politics as the mechanism of cultural influence because it just might be the only major mechanism of cultural influence that is left open to conservatives. The liberals are in control of almost the entirety of the cultural mechanism in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal article states, “Outside government, progressives have a clear cultural advantage in major institutions, from universities to movie studios to publishing houses to advertising agencies. Such institutions matter because,” as Hunter says, “Culture is not only a system of meaning but also an economy.” In hunters words, “Where are these cultures actually produced? The culture of conservative is overwhelmingly produced in middle rank low prestige institutions.” Well that sounds condescending. Just consider the fact that Hunter as a sociologist believes that the most powerful influences in society are elite institutions. And beyond that, geographically, elite cities and regions.

So Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Los Angeles. Those major cities are far more influential in cultural production than the rest of the country. And then Hunter ask, “Where are the centers of evangelical or moral conservative influence. They’re not cities like Boston and New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco. They’re places like Colorado Springs.” But for Christians trying to think seriously about these matters there are two paragraphs in this Wall Street Journal article that are absolutely mandatory. I quote, “As elite institutions increasingly repudiated the values of the masses, the culture wars took on,” what James Davidson Hunter calls, “A Nietzschean quality. The stakes began to seem so high that coalitions would,” in his words, “abandon their values and ideals in order to sustain power.”

The article goes on to say, “that upper class culture professes cosmopolitan openness but in Hunter’s words cultures are not by their very nature tolerant of much plurality.” So he said, “The Harvard Law School prides itself on its diversity but it’s a diversity in which basically everyone views the world in exactly the same way.” But the second paragraph is likened to the first in importance. According to the article, “In the heat of battle, religious conservatives to have found themselves defending behavior that contradicts their stated moral values. On the relationship between the religious right and the president,” Hunter says, “if there is a hope that the state can secure the world even by someone as imperfect as Trump, then again,” in his words, “religious people are willing to make all sorts of accommodations, willing to justify pretty much anything.”

This is where Christians have to step back for a moment and recognize what a Nietzschean looks like. That’s of course a citation of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the late 19th and early 20th who professed a philosophy of Nihilism, the fact that there is no truth, there is no meaning, there are no absolutes, there is no reality is love. It is Nietzsche who declared that God is dead and we have killed him. Nietzsche said that when everything else proves to be an illusion all that is left is power. And according to James Davidson Hunter I think very prophetically there are figures on both the right and the left who seem to have come to the conclusion at least when it comes to politics that all that really matters is holding on to power.

This is where moral conservatives far more than moral liberals have to understand what this kind of deal would actually represent. On the liberal side, increasingly secular, the Nietzschean argument makes perfect sense. There are no moral absolutes, there is no God to establish a universe of moral meaning. There is no enduring in eternal moral law so everything’s pretty much up for grabs. But moral conservatives are those who are supposed to know better. The kind of worldview, the kind of decision making reflected in this article in The Wall Street Journal, suggests that moral conservatives might not be anywhere near so conservative as many of them believe.

We can understand why moral liberals operating from a secular worldview can quickly lose sight of this. But moral conservatives and in particular Christian conservatives and when we think of moral conservatism, we’re talking about conserving the good, the beautiful and the true, Christians must be those who recognize, even if we’re the last people on earth to recognize that any kind of deal that holds on to power at the expense of truth and goodness and morality is not only not a deal worth making, is the kind of deal that eventually destroys even what we are trying to preserve.

Perhaps at the end of the day what’s most interesting in the current political moment is that both on the left and the right we see the danger of compartmentalization, and both on the left and the right we see struggles with trying to live out consistently what is preached and what is practiced, even when it comes to the distinction between personal conduct and public policy.

Part III

A look at what is behind the great moral divide between rural and urban Americans grows deeper

Finally, leaving the immediate political context and looking to the larger context of cultural change in the United States, the New York Times on May the 27th, that’s just this past Sunday reported on new research that was released by the Pew Research Center indicating a deepening cultural divide, that is, a political and moral divide between rural and urban Americans.

Emily Badger is the reporter and she points to the research and says that it suggests, “A particularly troubling dimension in an age old distinction between city and rural life differences in where and how Americans choose to live which increasingly overlap with politics are imbued with judgments about each other.” The most important aspect of this research is that it demonstrates rather convincingly two things. Number one, that there is a deepening divide, a great moral divide between rural and urban Americans. And what’s significant here is that divide is growing deeper and not more shallow over time. The differences are becoming even more acute.”

But the second insight from this research is that this isn’t happening because of what sociologists call sorting, people moving to live amongst those with whom they agree. The reason is this, the deepening of the divide is happening faster than population movement. That tells us this is a sorting. This is actually a deepening of the moral convictions on both sides of the American cultural conflict. But it’s interesting from a worldview perspective to recognize that the distinction is not just east and west or north and south, it’s rural and urban. And this gets to the fact that the rural and urban context provide two very different contexts for moral formation.

The rural context of moral formation is by definition a smaller community. It’s usually much closer to a agrarian and agricultural contacts. It is usually more populated by extended family and also by what’s often described as the natural family or the nuclear family, two parent families raising their children in that kind of moral context. Urban areas tend to be far more transients and the percentage of populations in those urban areas that live in nontraditional families is significantly higher than what is found in more rural America. A far higher percentage of unmarried persons, a far higher percentage of cohabitation persons and a far higher percentage of households not directly involved in the raising of children.

These contexts of moral formation are very different and some of the researchers in this study indicated that this is leading to an increasing tribalism in the United States. One of the researchers cited in the article Greg Martin of Emory University pointed to lifestyle choices coming right down to food and entertainment as indicating this kind of tribalism. In his words, “All these lifestyle things, the type of place you like to eat, the type of food you eat, the things you do for fun, the more these things correlate with political preferences, the easier it is to form these tribal attachments.”

The New York Times explaining how this works went on to offer commentary. “In these tribal attachments, lattes are synonymous with city living, which is synonymous with liberal views on abortion and preferences for Democratic candidates in elections.”

Stepping back as we conclude the most important questions for Christians as we’re thinking about the faithfulness required of us is asking what kind of context of moral formation we are creating in our homes, in our churches, in our schools. That’s the ultimate question. Understanding that we are creating a culture of moral formation is at least a start in understanding in facing that responsibility.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today, I’m in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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