Friday, June 29, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, June 29, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A political earthquake in New York as Democrats continue their leftward march
Sometimes the most interesting political developments that reveal the landscape of our culture come out of the blue completely unexpected. One of those occurred on Tuesday night in the state of New York. Shane Goldmacher and Jonathan Martin reported for the stunned staff of the New York Times, "Representative Joseph Crawley of New York, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the house, suffered a shocking primary defeat, the most significant loss for a democratic incumbent in more than a decade, and one that will reverberate across the party and the country."
Well, as you look at that paragraph, you might be thinking, "Well, there could have been a very established, very well-known, very well-funded political figure who ran against this democratic incumbent in the primaries and won." Well, there was a candidate who won, but that candidate was not well-established, was not famous, and was not even well-funded. As the New York Times declared, "Mr. Crowley was defeated by a 28-year-old political newcomer, Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, a former organizer for Bernie Sanders' political campaign, who had declared it was time for generational, racial, and ideological change."
Now, what's really interesting is the historical footnote here: "Mr. Crowley, the incumbent who was defeated, who was the fourth-ranking democrat in the United States house of representatives, is 56 years old. He was defeated by a 28-year-old, and the last time he had a primary challenger, the candidate who defeated him was not even old enough to vote." Even still, all of this might not sound so interesting or important to a worldview consideration, until you consider the fact that the candidate who won was an openly identified 28-year-old democratic socialist. The big news in this story is the fact that the Bernie Sanders wing of the democratic party has gained its biggest electoral victory, and it came as a complete surprise in a congressional race, in what was considered to be a safe seat of a democratic leader, even the future hope of the leadership of the democratic party in the house.
It came out of the blue, and it wasn't even close. As the polls came to a conclusion on Tuesday night, it appeared that the winner, Ms. Ocasio Cortes, had won more than 57% of the vote, and that was absolutely stunning. It has indeed sent shockwaves not only throughout the democratic party, but throughout the American political system. Why? Well for one thing, this means a direct challenge to the democratic leadership in the United States house of representatives. That leadership is very old. How old? Well, almost supreme court justice old, and furthermore, it's very liberal, but how liberal?
Well, not nearly as liberal as the Bernie Sanders wing, not nearly as liberal as one identified openly as a democratic socialist. The three top democrats in the house, the former speaker Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn, they are all in their 70s. As a matter of fact, all of them are approaching 80. Mr. Crowley, at age 56, was considered to be the baby of the group, as the fourth-ranking democrat, and here's what's really interesting: even in the days leading up to the primary vote, Mr. Crowley was meeting with other democrats in an effort to solidify his move to become the next democratic leader and potentially the next democratic speaker of the house, but he won't be the next democratic leader, he won't be the next democratic speaker of the house.
He's not even going to be a member of the house of representatives. In worldview analysis, the most important issue for us to consider is the fact that we are looking at this increasing political divide in the United States, and what we are seeing right now is that the liberal wing of the democratic party is growing even more liberal, and not only that, it is now openly challenging the established democratic leadership. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, the democratic socialist wing, the Bernie Sanders wing of the democratic party that wasn't even given much of an acknowledged political voice up until 2016, is increasingly, it appears, in the driver's seat.
It's really interesting to note that for most of her long history of leadership of the democratic party in the US house of representatives, former speaker and current minority leader Nancy Pelosi, from San Francisco, has mostly had to contend with challenges from her party's right, but no longer. Now it is really clear that the political landscape has been so re-shifted that there is now a political challenge coming to the entire democratic party not at all from the right, certainly not from the center, but from the left. In this case, the far left.
Why it’s significant that a deep red state like Oklahoma voted to legalize medicinal marijuana
Secondly, we have to turn to a very different political bombshell, another moral bombshell that landed on the American political and cultural landscape, but this one wasn't from New York, it was from the state of Oklahoma. It wasn't about the victory of a democratic socialist in a primary, it was about the victory of medical marijuana in a vote by the citizens of the state of Oklahoma. Now, the most important issue here is the word "Oklahoma". Oklahoma is a famously conservative state, it's a deeply red, predictably republican state, it's a state with very deep conservative political and moral instincts, but it is a state that voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to legalize what's been called "medical marijuana".
The context and the explosive importance of the vote in Oklahoma has to do not only with the fact that the state is, after all, Oklahoma, but that the measure adopted by the citizens of that state is so broad in allowing what by almost any definition will be recreational marijuana, under the guise of medical marijuana. The state's governor, Mary Fallon, made that very clear, so did other political leaders including senator James Langford. Even the efforts of those political leaders to make clear what was at stake, well those efforts were overcome by a desire on the part of the citizens of Oklahoma to legalize some form of marijuana, in this case what is called "medical marijuana".
Here's where we also have to recognize that the actual measure which will be adopted in the state of Oklahoma is not only extremely imprecise about medical marijuana is, but as a liberal site such as Vox news indicated, "The measure is also relatively unique, in that it doesn't tie medical marijuana to any specific qualifying conditions, which will likely to make it easier compared to other states to obtain pot for medicinal uses." The clear implication in that sentence will be that medicinal uses will be so widely defined as to mean almost any use. As a matter of fact, the Oklahoma measure adopted by citizens, remember, will allow any medical doctor to prescribe marijuana to any person for any reason.
Now just keep in mind, under the guise of merely "medical marijuana", the state of Colorado ended up with more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonald's combined. That was before the legalization of recreational marijuana, that was with the legalization of what was called merely "medical" marijuana, and that was a measure that was far more precise and limited than what has just passed in the state of Oklahoma. Make no mistake, this represents a fundamental moral shift in the United States. If this had passed in the northwest or the northeast, most Americans would pay it very little attention, that's what you would expect from those more liberal states, but this is Oklahoma, right in the heart of the nation.
Oddly enough, it now puts famously conservative Oklahoma in the position, once the Oklahoma government gets in line with this vote of its citizens, of allowing in Oklahoma what is universally illegal by federal law. With almost all the votes in, 56% of voters supported legalizing medical marijuana, only 43% opposed it. As I've often stated on The Briefing, I can understand the idea of medical marijuana, but I don't understand the idea of medical marijuana treating marijuana as a medicine by the standards by which no other medicine is judged or restricted. I don't understand calling it medical marijuana, when there's the tacit wink that we're not really talking about medicine in many of these cases, we're just talking about marijuana.
It's also interesting to note on this issue that this vote could not have gone the way it did in Oklahoma merely with the vote of the millennials. It's not just young people who voted in support of legalization of medical marijuana, this vote required the vote of an incredible number of older Oklahomans. Perhaps one lesson to learn from all of this is that in America right now, if you can medicalize it by definition, you can somehow normalize it. If you can claim medical authority, you can make fundamental change, even fundamental moral change, and that takes us to an even more important story.
Orthodoxy of the sexual revolution questioned in one of the nation’s most influential magazines
The Atlantic Monthly in the current edition has an extremely important cover story. Inside the magazine, the title is this: "Your child says she's trans, she wants hormones and surgery, she's 13." The article is by Jesse Single, and the very fact that the article appeared as a cover story in The Atlantic is of first importance. Why? It's because The Atlantic isn't a lowbrow magazine, nor is it the highest of highbrow magazines, it is somewhere in the middle brow. It's where educated Americans more politically inclined and culturally interested Americans often go in order to find where the culture is headed. Thus the most important issue first of all is that The Atlantic even ran this article.
What's so important about the article? It raises the question as to whether merely affirming young people, in particular children and teenagers, identifying as transgender is really the right thing to do, especially when the "right thing to do" by so many of the standards of the moral revolutionaries, is to move the child towards the use of puberty-suppressing hormones, or even towards gender reassignment surgery, as it is called. Seen in that light, the very fact that the cover story appeared in The Atlantic is very interesting, it's extremely important. As Single goes onto write the article, he actually goes so far as to talk about the phenomenon of de-transitioning transgender persons. That means, persons who had considered themselves transgender, who had moved towards identification with the other sex, but had then after transitioning begun the process of de-transitioning.
Why? Because it was understood by these individuals in retrospect that transitioning was not right for them. The article begins with a 14-year-old girl who has very well-educated, very morally progressive parents, as styled by the current age. She's identified as a 14-year-old girl. Now, given the transgender revolution, when we read that statement, we're now wont to wonder, "Does that mean a girl who was born a girl, an individual who now identifies as a girl?" Well, as the story unfolds, it turns out that Claire is a girl and always was a girl, but at a certain point, she began to question her gender identity.
At least some of the authorities, including medical authorities in her life, suggested that the right thing to do was to move towards those puberty suppressing hormones, and potentially even towards gender transition surgery. Several paragraphs into the story, we are told that Claire's mother, "Thinks that if she and the girl's father had heeded the information they found online, Claire would have started a physical transition and regretted it later. These days, we are told Claire is a generally happy teenager whose mental health issues have improved markedly."
The article goes onto say that Claire still admires some who've undergone gender transition, but she came to understand it wasn't for her. The fundamental issue asked by Single in this article is whether or not children and young people are really being well-served by the now prevailing, though often not acknowledged, revolutionary medical argument that affirming young persons who are undergoing what's called gender dysphoria means affirming them all the way to a normal regime, it's now called normal, of using those puberty suppressing hormones, and then moving even towards what's identified as gender reassignment surgery.
Remember, we are talking about young people here, we're talking about children, we're talking about teenagers. One of the most important aspects of this article is the fact that here you have, in a cover story in The Atlantic, a major article asking whether or not this is right, asking whether or not it really serves those children and adolescents undergoing this kind of dysphoria, this kind of questioning about their gender, to move forward under the name of affirmation with what is basically a radical interruption in their lives. One of the acknowledgements in the article is that we really don't know, there's not enough medical experience to know the long-term effects of these puberty blocking hormones, but let's just consider by common sense for a moment, consider just how powerful those hormones have to be, and how natural the process of puberty is.
Just how powerful does some kind of hormone suppressing drug have to be in order to block that? That's a pretty big question, and there's at least an intellectual and moral honesty in this article to say, "There isn't enough experience over time to know what the long-term effects are." But even in this article, it is acknowledged that some of those effects are likely to be irreversible, and that in many cases, whether male or female, the reality is that the use of those hormones means that biological reproduction becomes impossible. Single points out that the major LGBTQ organizations, "Place the emphasis on acceptance rather than inquiry."
That means, and this is pretty stunning, if you just put that in common sense language, that means that the major advocacy groups really want to shut down inquiry, they want to shut down questions, questions such as, "Would it be right to move in this direction, in the case of children and teenagers?" Instead, they want to redefine everything in terms of acceptance and affirmation, but what exactly would acceptance and affirmation, even parental acceptance and affirmation on these issues be in the often tumultuous life of a developing adolescent. The point conceded in this article is that adolescence is a period of life in which there are fundamental questions being asked, and affirmation and acceptance means affirmation and acceptance of adolescence.
That is a period of life, understanding that you don't take an adolescence's immediate self-understanding as being lasting, not even lasting, very long at all. The point here is that it's frankly rather stunning that this article appeared in The Atlantic at this time in the first place, especially using arguments such as this one, from a clinical director of gender and sexuality service at a children's hospital in New York: "Many people misinterpret affirming care as preceding to social and medical transition in all cases without delay, but the reality is much more complex."
That is a stunning admission. The admission that there ought to be concerns on the part of some of those leading this revolution is pretty stunning in itself. For example, consider this paragraph: "This caution comes from the concerns inherent in working with young people. Adolescents change significantly and rapidly, they may view themselves and their place in the world differently at 15 than they did at 12." The article cites a psychiatrist in New Mexico who points to the obvious, and that is that the physical transitions of puberty come at the same time that adolescents are developing the ability of abstract thinking.
You put the two things together, and you have an explosive combination, that's why adolescence has always been understood as that crucial period of transition when the identity is further developing. One of the most significant paragraphs in this article states, "The affirming approach is far more humane than older ones, but it conflicts at least a little with what we know about gender identity fluidity in young people. What does it mean to be affirming while acknowledging that kids and teenagers can have an understanding of gender that changes over a short span? What does it mean to be affirming while acknowledging that feelings of gender dysphoria can be exacerbated by mental health difficulties, trauma, or a combination of the two?"
Now, Christians would want to take this argument much further, right to the core issue of identity, and what it means to be male and female to the glory of God, and what it means to have our identity fixed by the creator and revealed even in our bodies. But what's most important culturally and morally is the fact that this article goes as far as it does in questioning what we have been told by the society and by its cultural influencers for the last generation, is the new morality and the new understanding of gender and what it means to be male and female.
In the article, there is also the open acknowledgement that many of the current medical standards, largely adopted under political influence, hold to an understanding of affirmation that would just automatically move, almost without asking questioned young persons towards those hormones blockers and towards surgery. Also in the article, it's revealed that at least some medical and other professionals want to move towards a more thorough evaluation individual by individual as to what it means to be "affirming". Equally clear in the article is that some in advocacy organizations are resistant to the very idea of a more intensive evaluation.
Is everything biological or is nothing biological? Examining the biological basis of transgenderism
Then we have to shift from that article to an equally important article that appeared at the Washington Post. The title of this article by Alex Barasch, "Biology is not destiny," the subhead in this article: "Seeking a scientific explanation for trans identity could do more harm than good." Now, we began by looking at the medicalization of marijuana and how that changed the moral debate, and then we have looked at the intersection of medicine in the transgender movement in the cover story concerning children and adolescents in The Atlantic, and now we turn to the Washington Post with an argument made by a transgender individual in this very important newspaper, that it just might not be after all a good idea to try to ground transgender identity in a medical diagnosis.
The entire background of this article is that the moral revolution on LGBTQ issues was largely made possible by the argument that gained traction in the culture that these issues must be explainable scientifically, there must be some kind of genetic or other kind of medical or scientific argument about the entire array of issues now covered by the letters "LGBTQ". But the argument made in this Washington Post article is that trans advocates had better be careful what they ask for, because it just might not serve that community, according to this argument, for there to be determined what is supposedly a scientific explanation for transgender identity, because you have here the same quandary faced by others in other dimensions of the moral revolution.
The argument is made, "This has to be natural because it's found in nature," the argument is made, "This must be scientifically identifiable, because science is the ultimate only authority. If it is scientific and it is biological, if it is even partly genetic, then it must be right." Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, every bit of that argument is wrong, given what we understand about fallen creation, and the impact of sin and God's judgment on sin in the entire created order.
The really interesting aspect of this article is that it is written with the open concern, and you can understand where this is headed, that if there is a scientific or medical explanation for being transgender, or for anything along the LGBTQ continuum, then perhaps someone will come along with the argument that can be fixed, it can be cured. Furthermore, if there is some kind of genetic or other biological argument, the concern reflected in this article is that governments and other authorities could use a screening process in order to determine who is and who is not LGBTQ, or go on through the list simply by this kind of biological or scientific process.
In an amazing paragraph, Alex Barasch writes, "To a certain extent, the evidence of a biological basis for sexuality, taken by many as proof that gay people are 'born this way' ...", that's put in quotation marks, "As opposed to being converted by outside forces, has helped to stop the rhetoric of social contagion." "But," says the article, "Playing up this aspect of identity also reduces gayness to an anomaly, and as the search for a specific gay gene or region of the brain continues, we run the risk of finding it only to pathologize it." Again, stunningly revealing.
First of all, you have the argument, the concession made here, and we have seen this in advance in many of the arguments made by the moral revolutionaries, that one of the ways the normalization and legalization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and the acceptance of transgender identity would continue, it would spread through the American people if the American people could be convinced that there was a scientific or biological explanation, thus the argument, "born this way". The concession is that that argument had "helped to stop the rhetoric of social contagion". That's really interesting, social contagion means that this was used as a weapon in moral warfare.
As this article concedes, once that argument is set loose, it can be turned right back on the ones who loosed it. The article continues paragraph after paragraph, but it raises another very important issue. We have watched how these arguments have developed over time, and you'll notice that they are moving in two apparently contradictory directions. LGBTQ advocates have argued on the one hand that biology is destiny, that born that way is the argument, and born that way is simply an inflexible, metaphysical, scientifically identifiable reality. Then you'll notice that the argument goes exactly the other way. "I know who I am, you have no right to ask who I am, gender is only a social construct, it's not even real, everything is merely socially constructed, and nothing is biological."
Well, which is it? Is everything biological, or is nothing biological? This is where Christians, armed with the Biblical worldview, come to understand that no matter what the science or the biology might indicate, the basic question here can only be settled in Scripture, and the basic question of our identity is only settled by God. The questions of gender and the questions of sexuality only make sense if there is a creator who made us for his glory, and who has determined who we are, and has told us the meaning of these gifts.
This is where Christians understand that according to a Biblical worldview in the wealth of Christian theology, when you're looking at something that is natural now after the fall, that doesn't mean that natural is good. Furthermore, from a Biblical worldview, east of Eden, outside the garden of Eden, after the fall, "natural" doesn't even mean nature as it was intended to be. That all serves to remind Christians that we are dependent upon God's special revelation, we're dependent upon Scripture for our understanding of these things. We can't even look to general revelation in nature and believe that we can look at fallen nature with our fallen minds and figure these things out on our own.
This is where Christians also have to acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God's special revelation in Scripture. It is simply impossible for fallen human minds to look even at a fallen creation and come to an accurate understanding of these things. We are only rescued by the fact that God loves us enough to have spoken to us in his word. Looking at all these articles put together, it is very clear that in a fallen world, fallen humanity can't even keep its argument straight. The humble admission of Christians is that we on our own are no more likely to keep our arguments straight, our arguments have to be made right and straight by holy Scripture.
That's what we try to do day by day on The Briefing, and I want to thank you for sharing this time with me. This edition of The Briefing brings to an end the 2017-2018 season of The Briefing. I'm headed into our annual July break, but we will be back with a new season of The Briefing on Wednesday August 1st, 2018. I want to thank you again for listening, and for thinking together with me, and I look forward to the new season of The Briefing starting in just about a month.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
Lord willing, I'll meet you again on Wednesday, August 1st, 2018, for The Briefing.