Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday February 12, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Virginia’s soap opera continues: Will the Democrats apply their zero-tolerance policy?
Virginia is a commonwealth that is one of the 50 states, but lately it has become a soap opera. Dave Shiflett writing in the Wall Street Journal refers to the state's elected leadership as a confederacy of dunces. But what's really important in worldview analysis is that there are big issues that are being raised here. We've discussed some of them already on The Briefing in previous days. But in recent developments, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are watching a moral drama unfold before our eyes, and we're looking particularly at the political and cultural left in this country trying to figure out what it really means to say on the issues that it has insisted are of front line non-negotiable zero tolerance importance.
Just to update ourselves on where we stand in this soap opera, the elected Democratic Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, is remaining in office. He is refusing to resign even though there has been an avalanche of major Democratic figures at both the national and the state level demanding that he do just that. It all came down to a week, just one week in the life of the governor, when in the beginning of the week he went on the air to support proposed legislation in Virginia that would have allowed abortion right up until the moment of birth, all the way through the third trimester, late term abortion. He defended it. And then he went on in a macabre and extremely strange live on the air comment to appear to endorse infanticide. All that became all the more ironic when the governor, having actually entered politics just a few years ago, was understood to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. He said, "I will tell you exactly what will happen," and then he went on talking in absolutely horrifying terms.
But the Democratic Party was not only not upset about the governor's support for late term abortion–that is becoming the established orthodoxy of the Democratic Party–but that very same party was absolutely thrown in to turmoil when later in the week it turned out that Governor Northam as a student in Eastern Virginia Medical School had included in his year book a picture of himself or someone else, he's not really sure, he don't think he's either one of them, one student in blackface, and the other in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan. The unfolding controversy became absolutely bizarre. The governor apologized for being in the photograph, saying he did not know which one of the young men with the beer can he was. He later then said he didn't think he was either of them, and has even recently talked about hiring forensic scientists to try to prove he was not either of them. But at the same time, he had to admit that the picture appeared with his permission in the year book. It was his personal page. And he also had to admit that he had been known by a racist nickname at some point during his student years. And then, after denying that he had appeared in blackface, he came back in a live press conference to say, no, actually he had, not then but later, between 1984 and 1987, shortly after he had graduated from medical school.
At that point, Democrats did a very quick political evaluation to determine they would be far better off without the governor. They would be better off with Lieutenant Governor Justin E. Fairfax becoming the governor of the state. The African-American Democrat scored higher on the Identity Politics Scale. He appeared to be for Democrats the perfect alternative that could signal their virtue by requiring their governor to resign, while at the same time knowing that someone who held to the same politics and might actually have a better national political prospect, he could arise as the governor and they could move on.
But then the soap opera only intensified and deepened its ridiculousness. It turned out just after the national attention fell on the Lieutenant Governor that a woman would arise to charge him with sexual abuse. He denied the sexual abuse, but admitted to a consensual sexual encounter, as he described it at the Democratic National Convention no less. But then even as Democrats are trying to do the quick calculation of exactly what they had to do in light of that accusation, the admission came from the Attorney General of the State, also a Democrat, that he had decades ago also participated in blackface. The calls came for him to resign.
But then there was yet a new chapter in the latest episode of the soap opera when a second woman arose to accuse the Lieutenant Governor of sexual abuse, this case of an actual case of rape. Once again, the Lieutenant Governor said he was not guilty of any kind of action against consent, but instead said it was a consensual sexual encounter. So where things stand right now for the Democrats is that all of the top three of the statewide elected officials in the state that are Democratic are facing calls for their resignation. And this is where things get really interesting in worldview analysis, trying to figure out how to unpack all of these moral issues in an intensely political environment.
But then we need to stop and recognize that even in very recent days, members of the Democratic Party have been calling for a zero tolerance policy on so many of these issues. Now, one of the problems in this is knowing what exactly a zero tolerance policy might mean. But at least it would imply no tolerance for this kind of behavior, either the racism involved in blackface and other dimensions, but also when you're talking about outright accusations of sexual misconduct, even sexual abuse, even sexual assault. Now, remember if we rewind just a matter of several weeks, we are back at the hearings for then Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the United States Supreme Court. The Democrats said that the accusations made against him were credible simply because they had been made in a way that became very public, very inflammatory. But in that situation, Judge Kavanaugh actually denied that there had been any sexual relationship, any sexual act, and when it came to that point in the argument, there was no doubt that the Democrats said, nonetheless because of the accusation, he should be invalidated as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. That affirmation was basically unanimous among national leaders in the Democratic Party and particularly among those Democrats that had already signaled they were planning to run for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 2020.
But in the case of Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, the accusations are very different and the two women who accused him in this case and came forward bravely and publicly, they have forced the Lieutenant Governor into a situation when he as admitted to having some kind of relationship, some kind of encounter with both of these women in fairly recent years, as we're putting this into perspective. And with one of them, he has admitted sexual behaviors that he claims were simply consensual. Now, hypocrisy and a failure to be consistent in moral argument, that's hardly a merely partisan issue, it's not just the Democrats who are susceptible to this pattern.
But in this case, we are looking at a unique constellation, which is shaped by the Democratic Party on this question because it is the Democrats who had stated the claim that there should be zero tolerance. But now they're in a situation in which they're going to have to demonstrate that at a way that will be very costly to their party. If all three of those who are now in the center of the controversy as Democratic elected officials in Virginia resign, the person who would take the helm of the state would be the Speaker of the House who is a Republican. That's to say, that if the Democrats actually apply what they claim is a zero tolerance policy and all three of these figures must resign, well then it's going to be a situation in which a state that has been recently colored blue will be colored red. But we will find out if the Democrats speaking to these issues actually meant what they said.
But then the situation gets more complex, as every real life soap opera eventually does. And that's because when you are talking about the new allegations made against the Lieutenant Governor, they are a matter when it comes to legal action very different from the accusations and confessions of racially insensitive behavior. That's probably an understatement when you characterize the blackface performance. But you are talking about what legally will have very different consequences. And so, Democrats are now petrified by the fact that they could end up in a situation in which the African American Lieutenant Governor is required to resign or remove from office and the two white Democrats, the Governor and the Attorney General remain in office. The optics are absolutely horrifying for the Democratic Party as it looks to the 2020 national elections.
Gerard Baker writing as an editor at large of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend said, “There are at least three questions for everyone to face here. First, what is an outright offense and what is merely offensively insensitive? Second, how far back in our past do we have to go before we can be forgiven for poor judgment? And third," he says, "given these complexities, what constitutes suitable punishment for such past behaviors?" Early in this controversy, it appeared that there were many arguing, "We don't even have to answer these questions. Zero tolerance means anything is discovered like this in your college year book and you're out." But wait just a minute. The very people who were saying that are now signaling they didn't really mean it. Even as you have every major announced candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination piling on and insisting that the Governor and the Attorney General must resign given the complexities of the situation related to the Lieutenant Governor, they are also simultaneously, at least as party leaders, sending the signal, "We didn't mean that if that means that the governorship will then shift into Republican hands."
The new orthodoxy of identity politics: Understanding the consequences of reducing human beings to just one characteristic
But at this point we need to shift and understand that there is something else that's being demonstrated here and that is the function of identity politics in the modern American moment. We are talking particularly now on the Democratic side where an embrace of identity politics has become the norm, the new orthodoxy. But exactly how that's going to work out is not at all clear. The bottom line that appears to be visible right now is that identity politics when adopted as party orthodoxy means that eventually you cannibalize members of your own party. No one can survive.
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal yesterday wrote, "Democrats need an identity politics intervention, having unleashed race, gender, sexual orientation and class as the defining issues of American politics. These furies are now consuming their authors. Every national Democrat of note," said the editors, "Is demanding that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam resign for appearing in blackface in 1984, and for offering different explanations for an offensive photo on his medical college year book page, but Mr. Northam is refusing to go." The editors then go to the Lieutenant Governor controversy, then to the Attorney General controversy. And they point to the fact that there is no way out of this because Democrats have now made contradictory arguments, they can't even be faithful to everything they have said. Adopting and absorbing identity politics, they can't figure out which identity they now have to champion at the expense of some other. The editors late in the editorial wrote, "The problem for Democrats is that the ideology of race, gender, and class is now so deeply ingrained on the political left that no one dares to challenge it. A presidential candidate who tried would be taking a big risk."
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan wrote an article that's far more positive about identity politics. The headline in the Washington Post article: Different Democratic Controversies, Same Influence, Identity Politics. Again, these reporters are far more positive about how this is going to work out on the Democratic side. They wrote, "Democrats are engaged in a vigorous debate over how to talk about identity politics at a time when the country's growing diversity is scrambling the electoral map, and as a diverse field is gathering to run for president." This looks like an interesting article. It gets a lot more interesting just a few sentences later. Get this, "While Republicans believe Democrats are going too far in their embrace of identity politics, many in the Democratic Party take pride in the fact that the current field of nearly a dozen presidential candidates includes only one heterosexual white male." Now, just notice the categorization here, the identity politics. This article is premised on identity politics. It's supposed to be about identity politics. It demonstrates the inevitable meltdown of identity politics and what happens when you reduce human beings just to this kind of identity. That last line in that sentence is simply bizarre, that Democrats take pride in the fact that their current field of nearly a dozen presidential candidates includes only one heterosexual white male.
Now, I have to say this so often, but just imagine rewinding American history not just 50 years, not even 30, 15, five years. Just go back a year in American politics and see how that line works. But it is now reality. And you'll notice that the Democratic Party, we are told here in a generally positive article, is really excited about the fact that their current huge field, about to become larger, of Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination, among them only one is a heterosexual white male. Now, just imaging what this means. This means that their debate, effectively, you're going to be looking at a crowd. If you just have the announced candidates thus far, and there's going to be one guy, presumably holding a sign that says, "Heterosexual white male." On the other hand, just about every other candidate is going to be introduced, if not in reality, then at least indirectly, as the one who isn't heterosexual or isn't white or isn't male, and as something very different or some new and perhaps even as yet unimaginable combination of different.
One of the symbols of all of this, and evidently at this point the most prominent Democrat on the national scene, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said, "It's important that we don't ignore the power of identity because it is very powerful, especially for women, especially for the rage of women right now." It is interesting that in almost every photograph, and there are so many of them, Representative Ocasio-Cortez appears to be smiling. But here she's saying that the major urge is rage, the rage of women on the national stage.
A biblical response to identity politics is not to deny the reality of identity, but the fact that our basic identity has to be grounded in the Imago Dei, in the image of God. It has to be basically grounded in sameness, not in difference. But that flies in the face of the modern culture's embrace of identity politics and the idea of intersectionality, which suggests that the more of these combinations of benighted and neglected identities you can claim, the more virtuous you are because the more you have been voiceless in the past. You add all this together and it's a competition for who can come up with the most bifurcated, trifurcated, multiply divisive identities.
But then we have to shift to yet another major issue in the contemporary worldview of the left. And we're looking at this, and we're going to have to be talking about this day by day as we consider issues on The Briefing, simply because you have an elected Republican in office, which means all of the dynamism in the entire primary process, the definitional process of a party, it is now all in the Democrats’ eye. That's where all the action is going to be as so many of these issues are going to be hammered out. Eventually we will get to a general election. But right now it's a matter largely of watching the Democrats decide whom they are going to nominate to run for President in 2020. And of course, behind that is the understanding that it's not just an individual, it's going to be a set of policies. It's going to be a party platform. It is going to be a set of proposals. But because of the reigning orthodoxy on the left right now, it is also going to be a demonstration of identity politics, one way or the other.
But here it comes down to another issue, eventually they're going to have to nominate someone, some singular individual to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and no single individual can check off every one of the boxes that the party, at this point, seems to want to check off.
The real reason why Christians should reject identity politics
But as we continue to think about this particular problem, we also need to recognize that secular conservatism doesn't really have a much better answer to identity politics than the leftward liberalism, secular liberalism or otherwise because when you are looking at secular arguments, it's going to come down to identity politics. Eventually, the only way you can describe human unit versus human difference is going to be to the advantage of difference, and the minimization of unity. It is biblical theology, it turns out, that is the only antidote–the biblical worldview–that is the only antidote to identity politics, to divisiveness that will eventually begin to erode the very possibility of having a society, of building a civilization.
You're going to be looking at the reality that secular arguments defining human beings as the secular argument must. They can come up with nothing better than competing interests and competing identities. That's what it has to come down to. It's a matter of who is going to gain something at someone else's expense. You'll notice that in this sense, the left has really shifted from where it was in say the '60s, '70s, and '80s. You're not talking about the grand arguments for unity anymore. They are talking instead about how to combine different identities united by rage into some kind of basic party unity that can get their candidate elected. But elected as a symbol of disunity, not as unity.
But the biblical worldview answers secular ideologies, whether they are of the right or of the left with a corrective that is grounded in both the Old and the New Testaments. From Genesis, we have the unity of all humanity in the fact that we are all made in God's image. But we also have to look at something else. And this is where the way we read the Bible intersects with modern headlines in a way that secularists will not respect, but also many Christians just don't think about. It comes down to this, the unity of the human race, according to Scripture, is unity, not only in Genesis, more importantly it is unity in Adam. We are of one descent, all of us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. That is a very clear historical claim of Scripture. The claim is that in space and time and history, the first human beings God created were Adam and Eve and that every human being alive is descended from them.
Now, why do I make this argument? Well, just think for a moment. If the Darwinist evolutionary vision is true, then there is no unity of descent. We are instead, according to the major theories of evolution, we are descended from different forms of the emergence of humanity in different places at different times. Now, just ask yourself, which of those truth claims undergirds the unity of the human race? And which affirms indirectly, even if not directly, a disunity? So, thinking about how the way we read the Scripture engages with today's headlines, just ask yourself the question, what is the secular argument for the unity of the human race? What is the secular argument for overcoming disunity with unity? You'll notice that the ideas of unity, the secular ideas, that it emerged from the enlightenment and especially took shape in the 19th and 20th centuries. And political theory, they are largely gone. Identity politics means that as history is a whiteboard, all of that has been wiped away and erased. Identity politics is all that remains.
But as I said, there is a second biblical argument that is extremely important. And that is grounded in the New Testament in the fact that Christ by the covenant of redemption is creating a new humanity. Now, that doesn't include everybody in our society, that doesn't include everybody on earth. Every single human being is included in that descent from Adam and in that unity of the Imago Dei, the image of God. But only those who come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, only those who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, only those who come under the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ are included. But that includes men and women from every tongue, every tribe, every people, every nation.
In the new humanity purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, made possible by the Father's determination to save sinners through the atoning work of his son, there is the establishment of the new humanity that fulfills what was lacking when human beings made in the image of God sinned against him. Christians do not reject identity politics merely because it's bad politics. We don't reject identity politics because we deny that persons associated with various identities have been mistreated in the past. We do not deny that the society we live in wants to force all of us into competing identities. We don't deny history. But we do deny that there is any ultimate meaning in identity that is constructed that way, that is argued and reflected in that sense. Identity politics breaks down, not just because of politics, but because it denies the unity that is made very clear in both the Old Testament and in the New.
And by the way, that affirmation that is made in the New is also made in the fact that as Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan and as he gave us the command that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, he identified that as the second most important commandment. Jesus made clear that there is no one who is not our neighbor, regardless of whatever qualifiers may be used of our identity. The most important thing we know is that we will never meet someone who is not made in the image of God. We will never meet someone, Jesus tells us, who is not our neighbor, period. So, Christians do understand that in a fallen world, there is no way around dealing with identity. There's no way to discuss humanity without talking about these various identities. But we also have to understand that the most important issue is not what identity human beings may describe about ourselves or any other. What's most important is the identity that is determined for us, given to us by the Creator. That's first. It's most fundamental. It has to trump everything else.
The descent of our society into identity politics and what you might even describe as identity economics and identity sociology– you go down through the entire list– it is going to mean the fracturing, indeed the atomization, of the entire society. The inevitable result of the ideology of intersectionality is that the closer we look, the more different we will all appear. But that is where we have to counter that very line of argument with something better, something truer, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture. And that's where Christians also have to understand that even as we leave the culture for a moment around us and we leave the politics and the social controversies around us and we turn to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ–it is there, especially in Christ new humanity taking shape before our eyes–that we must understand we have a truer truth than intersectionality. We have a more important identity than anything that can be suggested by identity politics. Identity politics is bad enough in the culture. In the church, it becomes a denial of the gospel.
Of this, I am absolutely certain: we won't be holding any kind of signs claiming our identity at the marriage supper of the Lamb.