Wednesday, March 6, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, March 6, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Documentary dethrones the King of Pop: How the secular worldview struggles to respond to the art of fallen artists
Wesley Morris writing for The New York Times, speaking of Michael Jackson wrote this quote, "He lived in defiance of physics, and race, and gender and we just kind of lived with that. We ate it up. Just the odyssey of his nose from bulb to nub, somehow like a people's journey. For so long, so much about Michael Jackson won our awe, our pity, our bewilderment, our identification. Our belief that he was a metaphor, an allegory, a beacon, a caveat – for, of, about America."
Morris continued, "You need to do a lot of looking at him to feel this way. You also need to do a lot of looking the other way." He then continued with these words, "But eventually, all the suspension reaches a logical end. You run out of hooks to hang things on"
The immediate context at Morris's statement was an HBO documentary about Michael Jackson that aired over two nights ending on Monday night. ‘Leaving Neverland’ was directed by Dan Reed, and it has led to an enormous amount of moral reconsideration on the part of a secular culture in looking at a pop icon such as Michael Jackson. It has also led to some very deep questions that the secular worldview is not really equipped to answer.
You could consider the controversy over this documentary, and the moral reconsideration we're observing in the larger culture concerning Michael Jackson as something of the next stage perhaps, the inevitable next stage in the me too movement. If the me too movement was going to deal with so many in the artistic and entertainment community, it could not possibly avoid Michael Jackson, and the ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary has seen to that.
The documentary, when I speak of it, having a devastating effect on the image and reputation of Michael Jackson, that has to be put into an historical context. But it is very significant that in March of 2019, an entertainer who died roughly a decade ago, is now the center of an urgent moral conversation. This reconsideration is not out of the blue. It doesn't emerge from a vacuum.
At two different times in the career of Michael Jackson, there were open accusations and at one point, even criminal charges concerning child sexual molestation, particularly the molestation of young boys. And at one point, Michael Jackson reached an out of court settlement, reportedly for over $20 million with one of his accusers. In the criminal trial, he was eventually acquitted of seven counts of child molestation. The charges were brought by the state of California.
The focus of the documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’ is on the charges made by two young men, now in their 30s, that Michael Jackson repeatedly sexually molested, and abused them beginning when they were ages seven and 10. The charges are extremely specific. They are also horrifyingly graphic. They are very difficult to deny, even as, of course, Michael Jackson is not alive to defend himself.
You are looking at a cultural development that demands the attention of intelligent Christians observing the culture trying to ask, and answer some of the deepest and most difficult moral questions without the equipment to do so.
One of the most troubling aspects of the ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary is tracing what amounts to the moral complicity of the mothers of the boys in what became, according to the charges, sexual abuse. Of course, neither of the mothers intended for their sons to be molested, nor did either, it is charged, have direct knowledge that the molestation was taking place.
But what is chillingly recorded is the fact that these mothers basically turned over their sons at ages seven and 10 to Michael Jackson who showered them with gifts, and attention and furthermore involved himself so much into their lives that Jackson became, as it were, a member of the family.
The documentary traces how the mothers and the boys were targeted for grooming. It's alleged by Michael Jackson in such a way that he presented himself as an innocent who just wanted to give their boys attention. But the first allegations, public allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson had emerged in 1993. By the time you get to 2002 to 2005, the allegations are coming, not only with greater frequency but also with those criminal charges.
The grooming is described in horrifying detail within the Morris article, "The mothers both mention an early limit they set. For Stephanie, it was refusing to let James sleep in Jackson's room on that trip to Hawaii, and Joy recalls vehemently nixing Jackson's request to abscond with Wade for a year. But Jackson ultimately wins anyway. He gets his way in part because he could be as manipulative as he could be affectionate, but also because each woman feels, in her own way, maternal toward him.”
Both families defended him at the moment against detractors and accusers. Both boys earlier denied that they were molested, waded the trial into the news media. James to his mother into a grand jury. But again, the boys who are now young men in their 30s, participated fully in the making of the documentary indicating in full the kinds of charges with details that they made against Michael Jackson. The charges that they make now in the form of cooperation with the documentary.
Jackson's family in the state, by the way, has announced plans to sue HBO for $100 million in retaliation concerning the movie. Another extremely interesting article on this story appeared in The New York Times by Joe Coscarelli. It was entitled, ‘Michael Jackson Fans Are Tenacious. Writing about the fans Reed, that is the director of the documentary said, "One can only compare them to religious fanatics, really. They're the Islamic State of fandom."
Well as the article in The Times makes very clear, Michael Jackson's fans are defending him. He has an incredible fan base. That was true in the first allegations in the 1990s. It was true, you could say against virtually all evidence considering the fact that Michael Jackson admitted to the sleep overs with boys in the period 2002-2005. His defenders are stalwart. That's the point that is made very clearly in the international media.
As the Times article tells us on Sunday night, that's the first night of the airing of the documentary we are told, "Fans deluge the ‘Leaving Neverland’ hashtag with thousands of tweets dominating discussion of what they called a mockumentary, and attacking the two minutes at the center. But the cultural conversation about this really does demand our attention.
Mikael Wood, a pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times in an article that ran yesterday, quoted Michael Jackson on his last real studio album as singing, "You can't touch me because I'm untouchable."
As Wood tells us, by the time Jackson released Invincible in 2001, he'd spent nearly a decade dodging suspicions of child sexual abuse. He goes on to say, "Evidence of his questionable behavior seemed to abound. A boy accused him of molestation in 1993 before settling the civil case out of court for a reported $23 million." But Wood goes on to say, "Yet in many ways, nothing seemed to stick to Jackson. Perhaps, the biggest pop star the world has ever known."
It can be argued that that's a documented fact looking at music sales. His 1982 album entitled Thriller that came along with emerging videos, and an international tour, it is now claimed was the largest selling musical recording of all time. He received the adulation of millions.
And when you're considering the money that is involved, Forbes magazine reported that, in the year 2016, that was about seven years after Jackson's death, his estate based upon his earnings and royalties brought in $825million. That's $825 million in one year, which really amounts to the fact that he made more in one year than almost all other pop artists in a lifetime. You're looking at just shy $175 million shy of $1 billion in one year. That's a massive amount of money.
Jackson's role in modern music is now a part of legend. He was a part of the Jackson Five, that is a musical group with Motown Records by the time he was four and five years old. By the time of Michael Jackson's death on June the 25th of 2009, it was claimed that he had been the artist on record breaking albums in five successive decades. A record that hasn't been matched by any other major pop artist.
The big moral issues at stake with the reckoning that is now taking place, perhaps the catalyst was the documentary, Michael Wood makes the point with the headline, what to do with his music. The subhead, contending with the legacy of Michael Jackson after shocking new documentary. Here is where we see the secular world quite awkwardly trying to come to some kind of account, morally of the issues now involved concerning Michael Jackson.
And again, there is a conscience that is involved that has a history. Because many of the people who now admit that they are deeply troubled by Michael Jackson, were some of the same people who didn't appear to be too troubled back when the accusations were made in the early 1990s, and in the first decade of this century. They were also, in some cases people who had profited by the adulation that Michael Jackson received as a pop artist.
It is really interesting to look at several full pages of coverage on this issue over successive days in newspapers such as, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. It's interesting to see one of the most influential magazines of the cultural elite, The New Yorker run an article with the headline, a day of reckoning for Michael Jackson with ‘Leaving Neverland’.
Maeve McDermott, again, the documentary was a catalyst wrote an article with a similar kind of questioning in yesterday's edition of USA Today. But McDermott expands the scope of her article with the headline, ‘Reconsidering Men in #MeToo Era.’ The men that are covered are musicians accused of various forms of sexual misbehavior.
McDermott and Wood, and they represent thousands of others, are asking questions about the morality of listening to, and enjoying music by an artist that is now so thoroughly, morally discredited. Michael Jackson in his new documentary are the catalysts, perhaps for this kind of angst, but this is also something that is generalized throughout much of the entertainment industry. And it is really interesting, very telling to watch the kind of moral considerations that are now being carried out in public.
Indeed, what is the relationship of morality to art? Can we enjoy art by discredited artists? What about enjoying music when we discover that the writer, the performer, the arranger, you name it, was somehow morally corrupt? Perhaps, even a child sexual abuser? What happens to the music?
CNN reported last night that radio stations in Canada and New Zealand have pulled Michael Jackson songs from their playlists. That's one moral response. Others are indicating that they are not going to destroy their Michael Jackson recordings. They're going to enjoy the music even though they can no longer celebrate the artist.
Others considering the economic realities of streaming music point out that, listening now to Michael Jackson songs on streaming devices will invoke an economic advantage for the Jackson estate. Michael Jackson effectively continuing to earn money even though dead through the arrangements with his estate.
You see Hollywood grappling with many of the same questions, can you continue to watch the movies of Roman Polanski? Can you continue to look at the movies that were produced by the entertainment empire of Harvey Weinstein? Can you continue to enjoy a movie even though the actor or actress has now been morally discredited?
I can predict that this is a conversation that will develop, and evolve over time and can't be disconnected from the financial advantage or disadvantage that will be experienced by many people, including many corporations by the time this story continues to develop. But this is where Christians need to remember, the unity of the transcendentals. Where did that come from?
Well, that's a very important feature of Christian moral reasoning through the centuries. The transcendentals are the good, the beautiful and the true. The Christian worldview based in Scripture reminds us that the good, the beautiful, and the true all find their origin in the existence of the one true and living God, who is infinitely good, infinitely beautiful, infinitely true. We also understand that a part of sin, living in a sinful world, is to try to separate what can't be separated.
In reality, the good cannot be fundamentally severed from the true, the true can't be severed from the good. By the time you put all that together, it reminds us that Christians know that morality and art can never be separated. But that in a fallen world, it's never so easy to understand what we are to do with an art, even with a morally discredited artist.
Christians have to affirm that there is no ultimate way of separating character, and artistic merit. Even though someone might be extremely skilled at any number of the arts, the reality is, that once we know the artist, the artist becomes an inseparable part of interpreting the artifact of art. And once we know the artist, the moral character of that artist becomes a part of how we see or we experience, how we hear when it comes to music, any artifact of art. Art cannot be totally and fundamentally separated from the artist.
But Christians also understand that even as our worldview demands a moral consistency. That consistency also reminds us that every single human being is a sinner unless there is no perfect, morally, pure human artist, no matter the human being, no matter the dimension or the form of that art. But Christians also must recognize a limit to understanding the toleration of an artist's character when it comes to certain forms of art.
And when it comes to streaming music, once again, Christians have to affirm the fact that we do know that we are morally responsible for every one of our purchases. We are economic actors with moral significance, and moral accountability for our economic and consumer decisions.
On part of this, we simply have to wonder what it would take to get some people to reconsider the morality of art. When it comes to Michael Jackson, well, it was already clear that he represented a very sexualized, very confused personal identity and one that was transferred directly into his music as a pop culture icon.
There was no attempt to separate the reality of Michael Jackson with his sexualized, and androgynous, very troubling figure. There was no way to separate him from his music. He did not attempt to. He attempted to become his music, and to make his music identified with his persona.
He was so successful at doing that it can now be argued, there is absolutely no way to sever them. But as many in the secular world are now awakened to some level of moral responsibility and trying to figure out what they are now going to do with Michael Jackson–and we could add many others– Christians must at least remind ourselves that this is not a new issue. And even as it might have arisen in Hollywood, or in the music industry in a whole new way at the current cultural moment, this is the kind of question Christians should have been asking and should be asking about every form of art, every object of art and every artist.
We had better be the people who know that there is no innocence on either side of the entertainment equation. There is no innocence on either side of the artistic equation. There is no moral innocence on the part of the artist, and there is no moral innocence on the part of the audience. Rarely has a fallen culture looked quite so obviously horrifyingly fallen as this.
Pro-abortion movement reacts predictably to new restrictions on Planned Parenthood, revealing the political power of the abortion industry
But next, even as I am now in California, I turn to a big story from California. Patrick McGreevy reporting for the LA Times tells us, "Leading what is expected to be a national battle over the issue, California on Monday, sued the Trump administration seeking to block a new regulation that restricts access to abortion and other family planning services.”
This lawsuit is expected in the general sense, because this is exactly what every liberal state attorney general does in the aftermath of any pro-life policy handed down by any presidential administration, almost exclusively, Republican administrations and now the administration of President Donald Trump.
In recent days, the Trump administration through the Department of Health and Human Services–and I covered this thoroughly days ago on The Briefing– announced that it would be handing down the new regulations that would require a physical, and financial separation in the so called women's reproductive health clinics between health services and abortion.
There can be no doubt, and there should be no denial that Planned Parenthood as an organization was directly in the center of the target of this regulation. It would require Planned Parenthood to separate fundamentally, physically and financially it's abortion services from its other services.
Now, remember that early in the Trump administration, there were efforts to offer to Planned Parenthood a deal whereby, the administration would drop all efforts to defund the Planned Parenthood Federation of America if the organization would simply cease performing abortions.
But you might recall that Planned Parenthood then went public arguing that it would never sever nor even retreat from its abortion enterprise. And it would even go ahead knowing that, politically hundreds of millions of dollars of tax support through the Title 10 program might be at risk.
The New York Times also ran a major report on the story, and the headline wasn't subtle, "California sues over gag rule on abortions." But the New York Times article helpfully reminds us that, about 40% of the 4,000 clinics nationwide that received Title 10 funding are indeed operated by Planned Parenthood.
There are at least two big fundamental issues of worldview importance for us to recognize here. One is the absolute determination of the abortion industry to continue in that industry killing as many babies in the womb as possible under as many circumstances as possible, with as much income as possible and with as much coerced money from federal tax payers as possible.
The second thing we need to understand is that, Planned Parenthood and other organizations like it have co-conspirators. In this case, they have powerful political allies in many of the attorneys general of the respective states. Again, if you look at the map, there are certain states that are becoming even more pro-life, and some that are becoming even more pro-abortion. And the attorneys general, as many of those pro-abortion states are not only grandstanding, they're downright serious in taking the Trump administration to court and the administration to court that dares to restrict federal funding even to organizations like Planned Parenthood.
At present, the law does not allow the federal government to pay directly for most abortions. But the reality is that you are looking at something like a half billion dollars of tax support going to Planned Parenthood. And if that money doesn't go directly to pay for abortions, it does go to pay for the operations of the organization that ultimately performs the most abortions of any organization every year in the United States.
Does shame still exist? How the reality of shame and guilt points to the gospel of Jesus Christ
Finally, we turn to another big picture issue. We're looking at a story that ran on Axios with the interesting headline, ‘The End of Shame.’ The article begins, "Resigning in shame isn't really a thing anymore. Hanging on for dear life and hoping everyone will forget about your scandal is the new thing."
Now the Axios looks back to recent political scandals, and indeed, there are still ongoing political scandals in the state of Virginia, but you could generalize this story elsewhere as well. And Axios does looking to other politicians who have endured scandals, they didn't resign, they're hanging on.
You can even think of our first story on Michael Jackson and recognize that it is becoming unusual for people even caught in horrifying behavior to leave the scene. They're holding on to office, they are continuing in the public eye.
Now Axios was just asking the question, "Has shame disappeared?" Once again, you see a secular worldview finding itself at something of a limit to try to figure this question out. But here's where Christians to better think Christianly, biblically in a hurry.
Christians understand historically, the distinction between shame and guilt. Shame is a subjective experience. Shame is a relational public experience. Shame is a different issue than guilt. Guilt amounts to genuine moral responsibility. Guilt means that we are wrong. We have transgressed God's law. We have broken a commandment. We are genuinely guilty, and the moral responsibility falls upon us. Our guilt is a biblical category.
Shame, according to the biblical worldview is the result of guilt. Guilt is not the result of shame. Shame has both a private, and a public dimension, but both are rooted in the fact that one is known to be guilty of a moral offense. The guilt about the moral offense brings about the shame. But the Bible also makes clear that we experience shame because we are genuinely guilty, not only in the view of our fellow human beings, but most importantly, in the view of God.
Adam and Eve hid themselves in the garden after their sin for which they bore the full guilt, because they felt shame knowing that they would be found out. They were ashamed to be seen by the God against whom they had sinned.
But we also understand that given cultural shifts, and frankly given individual psychology, shame is something that can be overcome. Guilt on the other hand, cannot. As human beings, we can excuse ourselves of the shame that is due, and we can do so socially.
We can conspire together not to make ourselves together, and individually experience shame because we want to deny the fundamental guilt. But this is where Christians need to step in in the midst of secular confusion, and point out that the society that increasingly subverts the idea of guilt will necessarily will also depreciate shame. The two go hand in hand.
We're a society that, in its secularization, denies a Creator against whom we have sinned. The sin becomes an outdated category. And as sin is considered outdated and it's done away with, so also is guilt. We are a society that seems to experience shame, and wants to deal with shame, and wants to get over shame and for that matter, wants to minimize shame, because we no longer as a society have any objective experience of guilt. We don't understand guilt. We deny guilt, and to put it bluntly, a society that denies guilt will very quickly also deny shame.
But Furthermore, as we're thinking as Christians about what the Bible tells us about both guilt and shame, we come by Christian biblical reasoning to understand that shame could be a gift. We can feel shame, because we have genuinely transgressed. We have broken God's law. We have sinned, and the knowledge of that sin leads to a shame that should lead us well, here's the biblical category to repentance.
It should lead us to our need for a Savior, and the Savior alone can take away our guilt. This points to the objective atonement achieved by the Lord Jesus Christ in his sinless life, in his death, in his burial, and in his resurrection. He bore our guilt. He also bore our shame.
And as Christians come to celebrate the atonement that is accomplished through Jesus Christ, we also come to celebrate the gospel, which is the great good news of salvation for all who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who believe in his name, who repent of sins.
This is where we come to understand that the gospel alone explains how our guilt is nailed to a cross. Our guilt is imputed to Christ by the miracle of the gospel, and by the justification, which is God's gracious act, our sin and our guilt are imputed to Christ. And for those who are in Christ, his righteousness is imputed to us. That's the great miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's what makes the good news of the gospel such good news.
So, even as the secular society tries to do everything it can to deny guilt, and to avoid shame, Christians understand that ultimately, there is no remedy for either, save the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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I'm speaking to you from Santa Clarita, California, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.