Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Briefing

June 7, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, June 7, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is the Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

History behind the Gallup Poll

Americans believe this, or Americans believe that. We’re told routinely that x percent of Americans believe a, another percentage of Americans believes b. And we’re not just talking about preferences about soap or even entertainment, we’re talking about the most basic moral issues that confront us as a civilization. For the last several decades, Americans just take for granted that we talk about what Americans believe. We cite polls and surveys and research instruments as if they rightly tell us and detect what Americans believe. And not only what they believe now, but how the beliefs of Americans have changed over time. So we are also accustomed to hearing, even as you’re looking at x percent of Americans who support y, you are looking at the fact that x is considerably larger than it was just a few years ago. We are a society in moral movement. We detect that. You don’t have to be a very keen or expert observer of the culture to understand that the moral terrain is changing fast.

But where did we get this kind of confidence in research? Where did we get the idea that somehow you can look at a poll or a research survey and come to understand what Americans believe? Well, that might be more recent than you think. Polling as we know it in the modern era goes back basically only to about 1935. It goes back to George Gallup, then a young man in Princeton, New Jersey, who established something that Americans had not seen before. It was originally called the American Institute of Public Opinion. It later began simply known as the Gallup organization. And year after year, and sometimes almost month after month, a succession of headlines have come to us ever since 1935 telling us that Gallup, meaning the Gallup poll, reveals this or reveals that. At first Americans didn’t know exactly what to do with this kind of research. This was new. It hadn’t yet been applied to every dimension of human life as seems now to be the case. In 1935, George Gallup started measuring the beliefs of Americans. Their preferences.

You can see how this would be immediately of interest to advertisers and marketers and to politicians. In the 1936 United States presidential election, George Gallup on the basis of polling – that was a new word back then – he predicted that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would defeat Alf Landon in that year’s presidential election. It happened, what’s important to understand is that it happened basically as George Gallup had predicted on the basis of polling that it would. That caught the attention of just about everyone in the political world and since 1936, no political campaign or candidate is without polling data. And often, when you look at national campaigns, without massive full-time polling organizations.

Just two years later in 1938, Gallup would form a very close partnership with one of the founding founders of American marketing and advertising, David Ogleby. And together they would come up with a system for measuring the preferences, consumer preferences, of Americans. You can see where this would lead. By the time you get to the midpoint of the twentieth century, every candidate is polled and marketed and so is every consumer product. The way this information game is played, that kind of data is gold. You can get your hands on the preferences of Americans politically, you can redefine a candidate in order to meet the expectations of the American people. You can test your messaging. You can look at an individual speech these days and find out how the response is coming from the American people. During the presidential debates, several of the major media even had moment by moment, word by word metrics on how the American people were supposedly responding to a presidential candidate’s argument.

And as you’re thinking about the gold that that data represents for marketers, branders, and those who are involved in the consumer economy, well you can understand quite quickly that the winning equation was to match that data with your product line as just the right moment. All of this also was based upon some of the research and work that had been done even earlier in the twentieth century when it came to meeting the consumer market with expectations and with psychological and sociological analysis. Some of this, very interesting, came from a nephew of Sigmund Freud. His name was Edward Bernaise. And it was also put into operational form by some of the early prophets of public relations in America, such as Ivy Lee. One of the interesting things to note here is that some of the earliest leaders of American protestant liberalism began to partner with these marketing experts as they were thinking about not just messaging soap, but messaging Christianity.

One interesting point of connection there is between Ivy Lee himself and Harry Emerson Fosdick, one of the most famous liberal Protestant preachers in the New York City in the early decades of the twentieth century. But what I want us to think about is the fact that we think about this all the time. We now reflexively expect to hear what Americans believe on this issue or that issue. And of course over time the social science research has become even more credible. The mechanisms of doing this kind of surveying and polling, well it has grown in sophistication and comprehensiveness, and oftentimes in predictability. There are some huge new research organizations, one of the most important is the Pew Research Center. But the name Gallup still has a certain cache, a certain gold standard when it comes to polling. As I said, going all the way back to George Gallup in 1935.

Part II

Why changing the number of people in a marriage is far easier than changing the definition of marriage

But we need to keep this in mind because just in the last several days, the Gallup Organization has released major data indicating a survey of the moral beliefs of Americans. And again, what’s so important is that this research measures changes in American moral judgment over time. The headline that came out this week on the fourth of June, quote, most in U.S. say consuming alcohol, marijuana morally okay. But just a day later, Gallup had another major release, and this is the headline. Quote, more Americans say pornography is morally acceptable. End quote. Now as you’re looking at those stories, it all goes back to one very basic piece of research. Research looking at the moral beliefs and convictions of Americans and it changes in those moral beliefs over time. And there is no doubt that the big story here is an increase in moral permissiveness. That’s a category that’s even used by Gallup in interpreting the results.

And as you’re looking at the release that came out on June the fourth about alcohol and marijuana, it’s really clear that judgment on those issues amongst Americans has changed radically. And in just about every case, but most demonstrably on the issue of marijuana, it is towards a far more liberal position. It’s also interesting to note within the Gallup data that there seems to be a distinction between those who offer a liberal argument about such things about marijuana, and those who offer a libertarian argument. The liberal argument is that marijuana or alcohol or anything else is a good that no one should be denied. The libertarian argument is quite different, saying that even though this might not be good, the role of government is not to prevent free American citizens from consuming or experiencing them. But if you put the liberal argument coming from the left, and the libertarian argument coming from some on the right together, you can explain that kind of moral momentum.

One very interesting dimension of the research released this week on marijuana acceptance is the fact that the one single issue that seems to predict and indicate more than any other where an American will end up on the question of marijuana is religious belief. As the Gallup release says straightforwardly, quote, religiosity is a major factor in determining attitudes. End quote. In that release that came out just a few days ago, on the fourth of June, Gallup indicated that its research project had not looked just at alcohol and marijuana, but at a range of issues.

The list includes birth control, divorce, sex between and unmarried man and woman, gambling, gay and lesbian relations, medical research using human stem cells obtained from human embryos, having a baby outside of marriage, the death penalty, buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur, medical testing on animals, doctor assisted suicide, abortion, pornography, sex between teenagers, cloning animals, suicide, and polygamy. The final two on the list, cloning humans and married men and women having an affair.

Now the summary statement that comes right after listing the data by Gallup is this, and I quote: Gallup’s trends on many of these issues date back to 2001. On Most, Americans have adopted more permissive views over time. Presumably, says Gallup, this also applies to the new item on smoking marijuana, given the surge over the past two decades in the percentage who say that smoking the drug should be legal. In fact, said Gallup, the 64% who last fall said marijuana should be legal nearly matches the 65% who say smoking it is morally acceptable. End quote.

But as important as alcohol and marijuana are, morally speaking, what’s even more important is the analysis that Gallup offers. That on most moral issues, Americans, quote, have adopted more permissive views over time. End quote. Now before we go any further, we should note that this is not universally true. It seems to be primarily true when it comes to issues we might describe as lifestyle issues. To issues that have to do with human sexuality and with expressions including drinking and smoking marijuana. But on the issue of drinking, it is not an entirely more permissive line. As a matter of fact, if you look at American culture, say from 1955 to 2018, you will notice that this society has come to a fundamentally more conservative judgment on the issue of drunk driving.

If you go back to the golden era of black and white television, as it is often celebrated, you will notice that comedies and dramas often featured openly inebriated characters, sometimes involved in very dangerous activities. This was presented as normal, it was presented sometimes as comedic. But not anymore. It would be implausible now to imagine the moral outrage that would come to a producer, director, actor, or advertiser who cooperated in celebrating something like drunk driving. But this gets to an issue that isn’t thoroughly covered in the Gallup study. And that is this: on what basis do Americans now, more secular Americans, secular Americans who have liberated themselves in their own minds, from any kind of biblical morality, how are they now making moral judgments? Well the issue of drunk driving over against marijuana tells us something. It tells us that Americans now seem to be making moral judgments and doing their moral reckoning on the basis of whether or not they perceive a particular activity or behavior to bring about harm.

So increasingly in America from the 1960s onward, we heard arguments that government ought not to regulate this, or to regulate that because the use of such a substance or such a behavior is not harmful to anyone. That then shifts the debate. If the debate is over harm, then if you are going to argue that government or society should limit or prevent something, you’re now going to have to prove that the reason for doing so is a demonstrably correlated harm. But here’s where we also have to recognize that that harm has a very short moral horizon. Americans are now saying, where’s the harm today? Where’s the harm that I can see? Where’s the harm that you can document? What’s missing from that analysis is the understanding that some moral wrongs are wrong in a way that does not show up in immediate effects, but rather in a long term civilizational trend.

To give such an example, you talk about sex outside of marriage and having children outside of marriage, and people said look, where’s the harm? But we can now see the harm. Those who understood God’s plan for sexuality and marriage and children knew that the harm would come, but now it’s irrefutable. You can look at the harm that is now undeniable in the fact that children who have two parents are significantly advantaged over children who have just one. And furthermore, there’s an additional advantage to children whose two parents are married to one another. And, of course, that means also as we’re thinking about the larger moral context, an advantage to children who are being raised in a household where both mother and father married to each other, are also resident.

There are some really interesting gems in the data here. For one thing, one of the issues that has caught the attention of the national media is the fact that the research indicates that Americans now have far more permissive views on the issue of polygamy. Now you should be relieved to know that the vast majority of Americans, 78% according to this study, believe that polygamy is morally wrong. But you should be concerned that that leaves 19% who declared themselves ready to say that polygamy is morally acceptable. What’s more troubling is the change over time. In 2003, just 7% of Americans said that polygamy might be morally acceptable. It’s 19% now. And that’s just 15 years later. So you’re looking at 15 years, a very big shift on the question of polygamy. Now how could that be so?

Now just remember that in the nineteenth century, the United States government forced the territory of Utah, and in this case it meant most importantly the Mormon church, to adopt a policy against polygamy. And to outlaw polygamy as a price of Utah entering the union as a state. That is how important the United States considered the issue to be. It was an issue of constitutional importance. So how can it be now that almost 20% of Americans believe that polygamy is in some sense morally acceptable? And of course the big issue here is not whether the actual number would be 19 or 17 or 21 or 23, the issue here is that notice has been served that the number of Americans supporting polygamy is growing remarkably. Let’s ask the question why? And here I think also the answer is right before our eyes.

In the period from 2007 to 2015, the American people did something of a u-turn on the question of the legalization of same sex marriage. And just consider how fundamental that change is. You’re talking about the American people, a majority of American people, in the period of just eight years. 2007 to 2015, reversing their judgment on whether or not marriage must mean a man and a woman. And of course the new moral judgment we were told is that Americans now believe that marriage can be a man and a man or a woman and a woman. The fundamental issue for our analysis is this: changing the number of marriage is actually a far less morally significant than changing the definition of marriage. To put the matter bluntly, civilizations throughout human history have found a way to tolerate polygamy under certain circumstances, but none had previously normalized anything close to same sex marriage.

And of course before we leave this, the larger issue is the trendline. The trendline means that there’s every reason to expect that 19% of Americans in 2018 say that polygamy is morally acceptable. But the reality is we expect that the next time this survey is taken, that number will be higher. And the next time, higher still. In the release that came out June the fifth, the issue primarily of concern was pornography. Again the headline, more Americans say pornography is morally acceptable. In 2017, that’s just last year, may I remind you? Only 36% of respondents said that they believe that pornography was acceptable. In 2018, 43%. That’s a jump in one year of about 7%. Again, don’t get hung up on the numbers. Pay attention to the trend. The trend is the truth.

Once again Gallup unsurprisingly tells us that the biggest issue that correlates with the question about moral judgment of pornography is religion. I read from their release, quote: religion also plays an important role in how a person perceives the morality of pornography with 22% of those for whom religion is very important saying pornography is morally acceptable this year, compared with about three quarters of those who say that religion is not very important. End quote. Again the big issue here is the distinction. It’s the contrast in the moral judgment on the question of pornography, between those who say that religion is to them very important, and those who say religion is unimportant. But looking at the study, and especially at this release of the Gallup organization, what’s even more interesting is to remember that Gallup doesn’t have a religious point to make here. Gallup doesn’t have a theological point. For that matter, Gallup is non-partisan. It doesn’t have a partisan point to make.

Which makes it all the more interesting that one of the subheads is this: quote, acceptance of pornography spikes among Democrats. The Gallup organization reports, quote: for the first time on record, a majority of Democrats, 53%, say pornography is morally acceptable. Last year this figure stood at 42%. Democrats’ acceptance of pornography according to Gallup, has grown by 21 points since 2011. And that just affirms what we already know, which is that political parties and party identification are worldview identifiers. Parties are as we have said, moral arguments and they too are moral arguments in motion. Here you see on the Democratic side moral movement on the question of pornography. And it’s quite shocking. So much so that Gallup uses the word spikes.

American tends to look at these kind of headlines, take an immediate notice, and then move on. Christians need to ponder these issues a good deal more deeply. Understanding that this is not just polling data, this is telling us about the moral beliefs about our own neighbors.

Part III

Is it really that shocking that the American Bible Society would align its employment policies with the Bible?

But next as we’re thinking about this, I want to go to a story that recently ran in the Philadelphia Enquirer. The reporter, Michael Boren. The headline, quote: workers told no sex if unwed. Boren reports, and I quote: the American Bible Society, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, that translates and distributes Bible around the world, wants employees to agree to abstain from sex outside of marriage or resign. Now we’ll pause here for a moment. That was the opening paragraph, and the point of that article is to get the attention of the reader and say this is a very strange policy, and it’s a very strange belief. What possibly could justify or explain it?

The Philadelphia Enquirer article continued, quote: in a policy recently made public, the organization also defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. That means LGBT employees, said the paper, could be disqualified from working at the nonprofit. So could sexually active straight employees who live with a partner but are not married. End quote. The report in the Philadelphia newspaper says that up to nine employees have already left, and amongst the others it’s like something of a firing squad, one of them said. And she went on to say, quote: you’re being forced to fire yourself. The paper went on to say that the policy was announced to employees last December, but it came to national attention through a report from religion news service.

Now the Philadelphia Enquirer, because this is a Philadelphia-based organization, has looked into the story and the new policy, which is known as the quote: affirmation of biblical community. Roy Peterson, the president and CEO of the American Bible Society, said quote: we realize everyone must live by his or her own conscience and understanding of what God calls his people to do. If staff members disagree with the affirmation of biblical community, he said, thus choosing to seek employment elsewhere, we will support their decision and continue to treat them with respect and care in their transition. End quote. Now here’s an interesting note. One of the questions that would seem to be apparent here is why this policy in 2018 would appear to be new for the American Bible Society?

Those who believe in a biblical morality understand that the policy now undertaken by the American Bible Society is dare we say it, deeply biblical. But in some sense, it must represent something of a recapturing of that commitment to biblical sexuality on the part of the organization. At least in part explaining why now, Peterson said that the policy been adopted, quote: because we believe a staff made up of people with a deep and personal connection to the Bible will bring unity and clarity as we continue our third century of ministry. End quote. Now notice the fact that the CEO used the word ministry in defining the American Bible Society. The Philadelphia Enquirer used the word nonprofit. The CEO uses the word ministry. That might turn out to be important. The wording of the policy turns out to this.

Quote: I will seek to refrain from sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant prescribed and exemplified in the Bible. A man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two will become one. Symbolizing the relationship between Christ and his church. The policy says, I will seek to treat all persons with love and respect, even if I disagree with their values, attitudes, and behaviors. Now immediately the Enquirer gets to the question it expects its readers to ask. Is this legal? The reporter says that Philadelphia has indeed a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation. But said the reporter, whether the society’s policy violates that law is complicated. He then goes on to report, and I quote: the law, known as the Fair Practices Ordinance, has an exemption for religious institutions that hire people to perform work connected with religious activities. End quote.

Now the big question, the paper asks, about this situation, is whether or not the American Bible Society is a religious organization whose employees are considered to be a part of the religious mission of that organization. At one level the big importance of this article is that it appeared in the first place in the Philadelphia Enquirer, and evidently the fact that there are many in America who are shocked and beyond that, offended that an organization known as the American Bible Society would truly take the Bible seriously as the Bible defines marriage and human sexuality.

But that takes me back to where we began with that Gallup poll! Because one of the findings of that poll is that a vast majority of Americans have no moral problem with unmarried persons having sex outside of marriage. According to Gallup, a full 69% of surveyed Americans indicate that it’s morally acceptable for persons to have sex outside of marriage. So that probably indicates the kind of worldview and moral context that makes this article in the Philadelphia Enquirer of media interest. But before we jump from that to anything else, we need to note that one of the most interesting aspects of the Gallup poll, one of the most interesting aspects of the question that is even raised in this Philadelphia Enquirer story, is what Americans believe about persons engaged in sexual activity in violation of their marital covenant.

Here’s a very interesting finding in the study. And I find it interesting that it has not attracted much cultural or media interest. There is one stunning finding having to do with sexual morality in America. If tells us that even though Americans unquestionably become far more morally permissive on issues of sexuality, that has not extended to the sin of adultery. According to this Gallup poll, only 10% of Americans would go so far to say that adultery is morally acceptable. And what’s interesting is that if you look over time, the numbers are barely changed. They’re all in the same range. Ever since 2001, when the study began, to 2018, it’s been basically the same. Almost nine out of ten Americans have identified adultery as unquestionably morally wrong.

It might be hard to come up with a unified theory of all of this moral change or the lack of change, but I’ll offer this. I believe that on the issue of adultery, there is evidence that the residual impact of the Christian conscience on the question of adultery is still so strong that Americans willing to compromise just about everything else simply cannot bring themselves to offer a morally permissible judgment on the question of adultery.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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