Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Briefing

June 8, 2018

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

It’s Friday, June 8th, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christmas worldview.

Part I

New generation celebrates new traditions with the rising popularity of the ‘you be you’ wedding culture

Tomorrow marks the third week anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Millions of people around the world watched Prince Harry and Megan get married. Three weeks later, what’s most important from a Christian worldview perspective is understanding how the world has been understanding, how the world changed, as was represented in that one marriage and a moment. Just after the wedding, we looked on The Briefing to how the liturgy had changed, how the structure of the wedding itself, the ceremony had changed in just the few years between Prince William and Katherine and then the marriage of Prince Harry and Megan. We also looked at the massive moral shift that has taken place in British society and beyond that, in western society, including the United States, in the redefinition of marriage, the redefinition of gender roles, and of course the revolution spins on and on.

It is really interesting three weeks later to look at how some of the cultural conversation has continued. For example, in the vows sections of the New York Times in the May 27th edition, Maryanne Rohrlich wrote an article with the headline, “Harry, Megan, and the Shape of Weddings Yet to Come.” Rohrlich offers some insights as to what we should see in the royal wedding about how other weddings and thus other marriages are changing as well. Point number one she makes is this: a divorcee wears white and why not. “Yes,” said the reporter, “She is now Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex, but no one would have imagined her transformation while watching the understated divorced American bride at her second wedding.” What makes this article really interesting as we’re thinking about changes in the culture and redefinitions of marriage seen in the re conceptualization of weddings is that in this article the fact that the bride was divorced is not seen as something merely to be referenced in history, but something now to be culturally celebrated. That’s a big shift.

We’re looking at something that represents a massive shift in the British empire, from the abdication of King Edward VIII in the early decades of the 20th century to the celebration of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the early decades of the 21st century.

It’s also interesting that fashion rears its head with some worldview consequences. The second point made by Rohrlich is this, “A simple dress and a long veil.” There’s an interesting little footnote here. I quote the article, “In 2011, when Kate Middleton married Prince William, owners of American bridal emporiums assumed they would sell high neck, long sleeve lace dresses similar to the one Miss Middleton wore. After all, doesn’t every bride want to look like a princess? But then, we are told, designers and store buyers were so certain that they quickly stocked their showrooms with similar designs at many price points, high and low.” The next words are the point, “How wrong they were.” It turns out that Kate Middleton was not a style leader. Her rather conservative gown was not adopted. It did not become very popular. The emporiums that sold bridal gowns found themselves stuck with a lot of back inventory of dresses that look like Kate Middleton.

Just three weeks later, it looks like the dress that was worn by Megan Markle is a very different issue. There again, it represents not only a change in fashion, but a change in the larger culture and its moral context. Perhaps the best summary line in this article in the New York Times is when the reporter tells us that evidently American brides prefer, “to look more Kardashian than Middleton.”

The third point made in this article is this: “No boring ceremonies. Be you.” Now, we might refer to this as the Oprahfication of American weddings, that very imperative be you. You be you, so associated with Oprah Winfrey and with the culture of self-affirmation that is now so ubiquitous, so universal around us. Here you have the fact that now a wedding ceremony is not supposed to be about marriage. It’s not supposed to be about the institution and covenant of marriage. Now this article celebrates, there is full freedom for couples to consider their wedding to be entirely about themselves. You be you. The outright claim in this article is that modern couples should have whatever they want, whatever ceremony they want, with whatever complexities or simplicities they want, with whatever kind of language they want, with a reference to husband and wife or man and woman or not if they want. Or for that matter, of course, the New York Times has to say, “It could be husband and husband or man and man or woman and woman.” Whatever you want, you be you.

Speaking of the wedding vows, Rohrlich wrote, “And with more modern vows like the newly minted Duke and Duchess chose, there was no mention of man and wife, they said husband and wife, and no mention of obeying. Places of worship,” said Rohrlich, “Might seem more inviting for couples who want to personalize.” What’s the big shift there? It used to be that if you had your wedding in a church, you thought it had something to do about the church. But as this article says, after the revolution you can have your wedding in a church and it doesn’t say anything about the church. The location in a church says nothing about theology, nothing about religious truth claims, only about the fact you like the building or the architecture. You be you.

Another observation that came in this article is the fact that there is now no need for a father to walk his daughter down the aisle. No, in the you be you wedding, bride can simply choose someone else or, for that matter, no one at all. The bride as the center of attention has full right in the you be you world to enter the entire ceremony on her own terms and to walk down the aisle unaccompanied. Of course, this means an entire complex of cultural meaning and symbols is intentionally left behind. If you are joining and representing a revolution that is just about the autonomous individual or even if for a finite period of time two autonomous individuals standing together, then there is an effort, an intentional effort to celebrate leaving that entire system of cultural meaning and symbols behind.

One very important moral point embedded in this article is the fact that some of the changes in the wedding are actually traceable to the fact that so many couples are co-habitating before they get married. One of the persons cited in the article, Vishal Joshi, the chief executive of Joy, identified as a wedding planning website, noted that so many of the couples are now living together before marriage. He said, “Our generation should celebrate new traditions.” Now, notice that this new generation celebrating new traditions is actually celebrating the overthrow of millennia, of century after century of human moral wisdom and the entirety of the Christian moral tradition on the definition of sexuality and marriage.

Just a couple of minor issues related in this article. It turns out that the wedding three weeks ago was very interesting to some wedding planners for the fact that there were so many children and so few bridesmaids and groomsmen. On the other hand, there was also the observation that Harry and Megan had revolutionized, at least for Britain, the idea of wedding cake. We’re told that Harry and Megan, the royal couple, said no to the traditional English fruitcake at wedding and instead went with a very gourmet version of sponge cake. Perhaps we can conclude this analysis by saying that we are very, very concerned about what this wedding says about the moral revolution. That’s the big issue. In the smaller issue, we’re all for good cake.

Part II

As young Americans postpone marriage, we see the unraveling of marriage and the entire understanding of the family

Next, tying this to the larger issues we face, even in the United States of America, the same newspaper, the New York Times, just two days later, ran an article not about the wedding, but about marriage. The headline: Millennials in No Rush to the Alter. Roni Caryn Rabin is the author of the article. The subhead on the article is this: Young adults are taking more time to get to know each other before they tie the knot. If you were just to rewind history, say, 30 or 40 years, and you were to look at this kind of headline, what perhaps would be most apparent is the sexual revolution, the moral revolution, the revolution in morality concerning sex that now sees as noncontroversial the fact that most couples will live together and be sexually related to one another long before they get married or for that matter without respect to whether they will ever get married.

Rabin writes, “The millennial generation’s breezy approach to sexual intimacy helped give rise to apps like Tinder and made phrases like hooking up and friends with benefits part of the lexicon. But,” she says, “When it comes to serious lifelong relationships, new research suggests millennials proceed with caution.” Now there are actually several avenues of research that are cited in this article, but they all point to one basically uncontroverted finding. That is this, that younger Americans are waiting longer and longer to get married. They are not waiting longer and longer to have sex. They are redefining adulthood without marriage at the beginning and instead are now renegotiating adulthood and marriage so that marriage appears as something of a capstone accomplishment after adulthood has been otherwise reached.

Now, as we’re just thinking about human history, we need to understand it has never been so in human history. Never. It has never been the fact that human beings defined adulthood without general reference to marriage. All that is changing. It’s changing fast before our eyes. It has the attention of sociologists and researchers and academics. For that matter, it has the attention of the New York Times. It has the attention of those who are trying to sell wedding gowns.

One of the most interesting dimensions of the research cited in this article comes from the website and service eHarmony, indicating that in its research on relationships, American couples aged 25-34 have known each other for an average of six and a half years before marrying. That compares with an average of about five years for all other groups. What isn’t so explicit in this article but looms over the background is the fact that the big contrast here is not with other generational groups today, but with all generational groups before. Rabin writes later in the article, “Both men and women now tend to want to advance their careers before settling down. Many are carrying student debt and worry about the high cost of housing. They say they would like to be married before starting a family, but some express ambivalence about having children. Most important, experts say,” and this is Rabin reporting, “They want a strong foundation for marriage so they can get it right and avoid divorce.” Benjamin Carney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles said, “People are not postponing marriage because they care about marriage less, but because they care about marriage more.” A lot to unpack here.

First, just the pattern. There is no question that Americans are now marrying later if they are marrying at all. There is no doubt that Americans, especially younger Americans, are now defining adulthood first in terms of education and then in terms of job and then in terms of other kinds of social and personal achievements before getting to marriage. It is also true, and this article helps to make that clear, chillingly clear, that one of the reasons that marriage has been in eclipse is because childbearing and the raising of children is also in eclipse. It’s interesting perhaps that there is the reference in this article to the fact that even the majority of millennials would like to be married before they start a family. Notice the kind of language there. Would like to be married before they start a family. We also note there has been ample evidence from social science indicating what Andrew Cherlin, another sociologist, has argued, that marriage has become the capstone achievement of adulthood, not the beginning of adulthood but the end of adulthood.

This is where Christians looking at this entire pattern have to step back and say, “How do we understand this through the lens of scripture?” You’ll notice that marriage comes so quickly in scripture, so quickly that it’s in Genesis chapter two. You’ll notice that the having and raising of children comes quickly, so quickly it’s in Genesis chapter one. One of the most interesting and revolutionary reflections we need to bring to this kind of research is the fact that we are looking here at the refutation and the reversal of the way human beings have lived for virtually all of human experience. As Christians, we’re also looking at the fact that what we are seeing is the unraveling of marriage and the entire understanding of the family in light of a moral revolution that can only be explained by the fact that Americans no longer feel themselves situated in or accountable to a biblical worldview, a biblical sexual morality. Behind that, there has to be a certain form of documented secularization. Americans, especially millennial Americans, who no longer live in a world that begins morally with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.”

You’ll note the language that was offered by Professor Carney. He said, “People are not postponing marriage because they care about marriage less, but because they care about marriage more.” He is using that kind of language because he says that many younger Americans are reluctant to marry because they have witnessed so many divorces. That’s a morally important and consequential argument, but it also takes us to ask the question, how truly, genuinely would divorce be avoided. If it were only so easy that divorce would be avoided by marrying later, but as we look at the reality we come to understand that the basic problem that is represented by divorce is not a matter of chronology. It is a matter of understanding, of moral understanding, and of commitment. It is the understanding of marriage as a covenant, not merely as a temporary transient contract. In that sense, the most morally consequential issue can’t be how old one is when one gets married, but what one thinks marriage is, at whatever age one marries.

As Christians, something else we should watch for in this kind of analysis and we should listen for in cultural conversation is yearning. Those yearnings are also very revealing. The yearnings of a society, the yearnings of a generation, the yearnings of a single individual tell us a very great deal. Sometimes, those yearnings are rightful. They reflect the fact that God has implanted that yearning in the human heart and soul.

Consider this paragraph from the article. “Most singles still yearn for a serious romantic relationship, even if these relationships often have unorthodox beginnings. Nearly 70% of singles surveyed by the website, they were recently surveyed as part of its eighth annual report on singles in America, said they wanted a serious relationship.” What you should hear there is the cry of the heart. That’s the kind of cry that Christians understand, even as the secular world tries to understand. We understand that that yearning, that desire is not wrongly originated. It just often wrongly directed.

Pulling all this together as we come to the three-week anniversary of the royal wedding, we come to find out that there was not only interest in the royal wedding. There is still persistent interest in and yearning for marriage, but it’s surrounded with a massive cloud of confusion. It is our responsibility as Christians to understand both the confusion and the yearning.

Part III

Why our response to secularization should not be retreat and pessimism, but the preaching of the gospel

Next, we shift to consider secularization in a larger context. Recently, Religion News Service ran an article with the headline Europe Not so Secular After All. We are told that a survey has found that a large group of Europeans is represented by “non-practicing Christians.” The article is by Tom Heneghan of Religion News Service. It is datelined from Paris, France. It begins, “With its dwindling rates of attendance of religious services and rising numbers of churches shuttered or sold, Western Europe seems to be the region of the world where the outlook for faith is bleakest.” He goes on to cite a recent document from Pope Francis who described western civilization as “a journey ending in a shipwreck with the survivors trying to build a raft.”

Then we need to pay attention to the next several sentences in this article from Religious News Service. “A new survey by the Pew Research Center looks past the headlines that worry the established churches to ask what western Europeans think about religion. The results recently issued suggest a more nuanced picture.” I continue the quote, “Despite the region’s widespread secularization, 71% of the 24,599 adults Pew surveyed in 15 countries still identify as Christians, even if only 22% say they attend church at least once a month.” The next sentence must be read. “At 46% of the total sample, non-practicing Christians make up the largest single group in the survey, almost double the 24% of religiously unaffiliated atheist, agnostic, and nuns, that often dominate commentaries about the state of Christianity in its erstwhile stronghold,” that meaning Europe.

Let’s just pause to consider what we’re looking at here. It’s a major redefinition of what it means to be secular, going hand in hand with a major redefinition of what it means to be Christian. Neither of these redefinitions is very accurate nor helpful. The redefinition of what it means to be secular in this study is the suggestion that secular people often aren’t as secular as they think they are and that secular people who may identify in very secular ways of thinking and living and morality, they’re not so secular when it comes to checking off a box as to their religious identification. The redefinition of Christian here includes the stunning category that just about says everything, non-practicing Christians. Now, from a biblical perspective, we come to understand that non-practicing Christians almost always means non-Christians. That tells us a great deal about the background of the confusion that has been rampant for so many decades now.

Those who’ve been looking at religion in the United States, in Europe, or around the world most often have had the habit of asking people, “Are you A or B or C or D? Check off a box.” There, we have to note, the most important issue has been the religious affiliation or understood religious afflation of the parents. Throughout most of modern research history, people have simply ticked off the box that was indicated by the faith of their parents. Now, one of the results of research conducted that way is that it always gave falsely inflated figures as we’re thinking about religious affiliation and religious belief. To put the matter bluntly, it was readily apparent to just about anyone looking closely that the numbers of the affiliated vastly outstripped the numbers of the active, the numbers of the involved. In the United States, just looking at major Protestant denominations, the numbers were always incongruous. You look at these massive membership statistics and then you would look at realistic attendance numbers, and they simply didn’t add up.

Where are these people and who are these people and what exactly do they believe? There’s an interesting angle in this article. It’s attributed to Paul Bickley, the head of the political program, Theos. That’s a London think tank. He said that a British census question on religion gives an idea of a group that he called “census Christians,” without any further detail or elaboration. That’s a helpful category. Census Christians. Because it’s the British census that ask the questions. They tick off the box or indicate the affiliation that probably is rooted in family history if nothing else. Some people looking at those numbers would say, “Well, there’s a Christian or there’s a Presbyterian or there’s a Buddhist or a Jewish person or a Hindu person,” just because of the box that was checked off. The reality is that, especially in the post Christian west, those census Christian numbers tell us virtually nothing.

It’s also interesting, later in the article, where we read, “In the Pew survey, about half the non-practitioners said they believe in a higher power or spiritual force and other quarter in the God described in the Bible, compared with two thirds of practicing Christians who have the biblical view of God.” This is where Evangelicals operating from a biblical worldview come to understand it’s hard to imagine a confusion deeper or more dangerous than this. Here we are told that we should supposedly be reassured that there are more non-practicing Christians than we had known. Christianity is thus, we are told, not in such a severe decline. At the same time, we are told that half of the non-practitioners say that they believe in merely a higher power or spiritual force. That means, by the way, the other half don’t believe in any kind of spiritual force or higher power. The bottom line in all of this is to say that most people by any form of logic and consistency who are non-practicing are also non believing. At this point, Christians come to understand that there is no comfort whatsoever in the idea of unbelieving census Christians.

Our biggest concern as Christians is not with the institutional decline of the church, but with the power of the Gospel and the witness of Christianity. Our biggest concern has to be that the Gospel is preached so that the Gospel can be heard and that sinners hearing the Gospel can believe and be saved. It should bring us no spiritual comfort and should raise spiritual and theological alarms to be told that we should be less concerned about the secularization of the society around us because if we could only see what is there to see, we would see a lot of non-practicing, non-believing census Christians all around us.

We’re here told that Europe is not so secular after all, but looking at the research it appears to us that Europe is so secular after all. Our response is not retreat and retrenchment and pessimism, but rather the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the responsibility of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in season and out of season, regardless of the research.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Dallas, Texas, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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