Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Briefing

March 11, 2019

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

It’s Monday, March 11, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What happens in California doesn’t stay in California: If you want to see a glimpse into America’s political future, look to the West Coast

Several years ago, William Gibson remarked that the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed. That’s to say that the future tends to arrive in some places faster than in other places. In the United States, as we’re thinking about cultural, social and moral change, the future tends to happen in California before it happens anywhere else.

As we think about so many of the seismic changes that have taken place on the American landscape over the last several years, we need to note that California has often served, not only as a laboratory, but as a barometer. Just a few days ago, Mark Z. Barabak reporting for the Los Angeles Times reminds us that if we want to understand how change is represented by the State of California, just consider as the subhead of the article in the LA Times said, “Reagan once embodied California. The state now looks a lot like Kamala Harris.” Indeed, as Barabak’s article begins, “In 1980, former California Governor, Ronald Reagan, was elected the nation’s 40th president, Blondie topped the music charts, the sequel to Star Wars packed movie theaters and Kamala Harris was a 16-year-old finishing high school. Nearly four decades later,” says the Times, “Harris is a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination, the favorite in California’s March 3 primary, and as a United States Senator, the state’s most serious White House contender since Ronald Reagan entered the oval office.” And then a simple one sentence paragraph, “The differences are stark.”

Well, indeed they are. Ronald Reagan not only embodied California four decades ago, he embodied the United States, as seen by two landslide elections. He also represented American conservatism, a renaissance of conservatism in the United States, conservative thought, conservative policies, many of them emerging from his eight years as Governor of California, then and now the nation’s most popular state. But now in California, it has been years since there has been a single Republican elected to statewide office. The Republican rule statewide was the norm for several generations, but now it’s not only the exception, it’s simply the past, unimaginable in California’s present condition.

Looking at someone like Kamala Harris, she doesn’t represent the left wing in California, even though in national politics, she is one of those driving the Democratic party far to the left, especially in the dynamic of the 2020 Democratic race for the Presidential Nomination. After comparing and contrasting Harris and Reagan, he writes, “Together they bookend 40 years of dramatic political and demographic transformation in their home state. In their own way, Reagan and Harris,” he says, “Both embody the California of their time, and more broadly, changes across America.” Barabak continues, “The state that ushered Reagan to the White House was predominantly white and Republican leaning, an arsenal of the Cold War and a hotbed of anti-tax fervor. The California that serves as Harris’ national springboard has more brown than white residents, is strongly Democratic, and a leader in high tech innovation, and has twice voted in recent years to pay more taxes.”

Mike Madrid, a strategist for the Republican Party in California said, “She’s,” meaning Kamala Harris, “Everything he’s,” meaning Ronald Reagan, “Not And in many ways, that’s what the state’s become.” That’s a candid assessment. It is also by every measure an accurate assessment. Barabak’s article traces how Ronald Reagan gave birth to conservatism as an American sunbelt phenomenon. As he says, “Grounded in a strong national defense, assertive foreign policy, promotion of traditional family vales, and aversion to big government versions and the taxes that finance them.” Just before Reagan was elected to the White House, California voters had made very clear their anti-tax fervor, passing what was known as Proposition 13. That led to a nationwide taxpayer revolt. And, as Barabak notes, helped to propel Ronald Reagan to the White House. You compare that to California now where the tax rate is one of the highest in the nation. A good number of Californians with financial means have left the state, precisely because of that taxation. And there is an actual shopping for California corporations willing to leave the state due to taxation and move to other lower taxation states.

But at the same time, California is a dynamo, largely driven by two things, the influx of immigrants, and the rise of high technology. In particular, Silicon Valley and the high tech revolution. Kamala Harris is herself a representative of those changes. Interestingly, Barabak notes that it isn’t likely that California can springboard Kamala Harris to the White House the way it did Ronald Reagan. That’s because of changes in both the Democratic and Republican parties in the nomination process. It’s also because of vast changes on the national landscape. California, especially in the Democratic Party, has long felt neglected. So, the state has moved up its primary once again, this time becoming one of 10 states in the biggest delegate day of all, super Tuesday, which will be held on March the 3rd. At this point, Kamala Harris as the former Attorney General of the state and as a current United States Senator is favorite in the race, but Californians tend to go with who is perceived to be the front runner in the race nationwide, not just with the favorite son or daughter. So, Kamala Harris is at least served notice that there is no way she can take even California for granted on March the 3rd of 2020.

Barabak’s article rightly makes a good deal of the demographic changes in California, the population is much larger than it was in 1980, much less during the 1960s in the early ’70s when Ronald Reagan was Governor of the state. But demography alone doesn’t explain the transformation of California. Culturally and morally that transformation is far more basic even than it is politically. The politics follows the culture, not the other way around. But as we look at California within the context of the United States, several things do become very clear. For one thing, at least historically as you move west from the great plains, you encounter a more secular America, more recently settled, less evangelized and congregationalized from the very beginning. And as you look at California, you also come to understand that on the coast and with several major universities, it has always had a liberalizing influence, a dynamic within the state. But then you add Hollywood, you add the vast entertainment industry. And then on top of that, you put the entire segment of the population known as the cultural creatives, throw in beyond that Silicon Valley and high technology, and you begin to understand why California is the leading dynamo for moral change in the United States and in a liberal direction. All of this on top of the cultural upheavals that California led in the 1960s and the 1970s, with cultural revolt and an entire alternative culture arising.

Jerry Brown, who recently left office as California Governor after serving a record four terms, he served back in the 1970s, and then he served in the last decade. And California has been utterly transformed. Jerry Brown didn’t transform himself so much politically as the state around him moved. When he was first elected Governor, he was on the left wing of the Democratic Party. By the time he left office, on many fiscal issues and issues of public policy, he was, if anything, a conservative check on the even more liberal California assembly. His successor in office, Gavin Newsom, when he was the Major of San Francisco, became an ardent early proponent of legalizing same-sex marriage.

In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, Charles R. Kesler, who is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, he’s also editor of the Claremont Review of Books, he wrote an article with a headline, California Has Become the Far Left Coast. He points out, and I quote, “California’s descent into a one-party state accelerated in 2018. Golden state Democrats picked up seven seats in the house. They now control almost 87% of the state’s congressional delegation, 46 of the 53 members of congress. Orange County, one of the original strongholds of the conservative movement,” he writes, “Is now a liberal bastion. Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats and all eight elected statewide offices.” He continues, “It has been widely reported that in the California legislature democrats won super majorities of two thirds.” He says, “This underscores their control, which is more like three fourths of each chamber, 28 of 40 senate seats with two vacancies, and 61 of 80 seats in the California assembly.”

He goes on to describe the local level in much of California. And then writes, “The Democrats’ crushing dominance allows them to use California as a progressive policy laboratory. As a result, the state has the highest welfare numbers, a third of all Americans on welfare live in California, the largest contingent of illegal immigrants, a burgeoning homeless population, onerous regulations on business and private property, mediocre public schools, high income taxes and sales taxes, a yawning gap between rich and poor, its own summer blend of expensive gasoline bedraggled in crowded roads to punish people further for driving, and a widely mocked high speed rail boondoggle.” Kesler’s point is that with Democrats being so dominant in the state, there’s virtually nothing to serve as a firewall from them pressing their direction further and further to the left.

The same thing is largely true in Oregon and Washington State. And again, Christians would look at this and come to understand that this cultural liberalism and moral progressivism, as it is styled, it sits upon a basically far more secular foundation than the rest of the United States, at least historically so. Again, I remind us that if you are looking for the leading edge of secularization in the United States, you will look at the two coasts, you will look at areas of metropolitan concentration and you will look at areas that are dominated by higher education. Those three things put together are a recipe for secularization. And once you are looking at the west coast, you’re looking at a region that never was pervasively evangelized at all.

There were some exceptions to this. And that’s why American evangelicalism was very strongly propelled during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and even into the ’80s by very strong areas of evangelical influence, such as Orange County and the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. The one area in California that remains influenced strongly by cultural and political conservatism is the central valley, very heavily invested in agriculture, and in some ways looking more like Texas than like the rest of the State of California. But that’s also changing, and demography is at least a part of the answer there too.

But another part of the equation is that the liberals in California don’t care much for farming, nor for farmers. Farming agriculture is an inherently conserving and conservative influence. And you can see environmentalists winning battle after battle in California over the farmers, even though California’s agricultural sector has been one of the most important, not only in the United States, but worldwide. By the way, we should note that even as you’re looking for social liberalism and secularism near the coast, near the campus, near the city, you’re also not by accident likely to find the leading edge of conservatism, morally and otherwise, where you find more rural and more agricultural areas.

Again, the biblical worldview would help to explain this for two reasons. First of all, when you are looking at agriculture, you are looking at a structure that implies family. It requires family investment. It is not a solitary experience, it’s certainly not something that can be described as a solitary profession. The second dynamic has to do with the fact that agriculture and ties to the land turn out to be profoundly conserving in and of themselves. The stewardship of the land, the respect, the humbling respect for the cycle that comes in agriculture, all of this amounts to a deeply conserving impulse and thus, conservative.

That Los Angeles Times article by Barabak really rather brilliantly describes the change in this single state as represented in the contrast between Ronald Reagan and Kamala Harris, a contrast that amounts to over 40 years of vast change culturally, morally, politically, demographically, economically and in almost every way imaginable in the State of California. And all of this, of course, would be interesting enough if it just came down to a greater understanding of the nation’s most popular state. But that’s not the main point, is it? The main point is that what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. It spreads to the rest of the United States, perhaps unevenly, but inevitably.

Part II

The vast worldview divide in America on display: Why it’s more difficult to pass actual legislation than support general policy ideas

Next, we shift to another issue of political change, the political dynamic in the United States seen in moral terms. Tim Wu, a professor of law at Colombia University, he’s the author of the book The Curse of Bigness: Anti-trust in the new Gilded Age. He wrote an opinion piece that recently ran in the New York Times with the headline, What the Public Wants it Doesn’t Get. Wu points to what he says is the failure of our democratic process within a constitutional republic because super majorities of Americans who agree on issues don’t get their way. Wu writes, “We are told that America is divided and polarized as never before. Yet, when it comes to many important areas of policy, that simply isn’t true.” Here’s what he says, “About 75% of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultra wealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67% support. 83% favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60% want stronger privacy laws. 71 think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92% want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.” The list goes on.

He says, “The defining political fact of our time is not polarization, it’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it,” he says, “The oppression of the super majority. Ignoring what most of the country wants,” he writes, “As much as demagogy and political divisiveness is what is making the public so angry.” Now, Wu is a professor of law, he knows the U.S. Constitution. He knows that the United States as a political order is not a direct democracy. He knows that we are a constitutional republic. But the main thrust of his argument is that there are, he tells us, these super majorities who are in basic agreement, overwhelming agreement on many issues that we are told are controversial and polarized. He says, “They are not representing the polarization of the American people. There is a vast super majority consensus.” But you’ll notice that his entire list is almost universally drawn from the left, very liberal policy positions.

You’ll also notice that these numbers are given, 71% of this, 90% of that, 60% of another thing. But then we need to consider for a moment, this can’t mean what it appears to mean. And here’s one of the phenomena we need to watch as we listen to and note the political discourse in the nation around us. When you are looking at numbers like this, the numbers are primarily drawn from surveys, from polling instruments. And that means that Americans are by and large asked to answer questions, “Are you for this? Does this sound like a good idea?” Well, when Americans are asked questions that way, they are almost always completely separated from any genuine and authentic policy. They’re not being asked, “Do you support this policy? Are you in favor of this law?” They are not given any details, they’re just asked, “Are you for this or against it? Do you like beauty?” “Yes.” “Are you for cute?” “Yes.” “Would you like air conditioning?” “Of course.”

Congress may be indited for being recalcitrant and reluctant to take responsibility, even to fulfill its constitutional role, abdicating far too much authority to the executive branch, and furthermore, being basically unwilling to govern, to legislate. But at the same time, this kind of article is not really helpful because there is no concrete policy proposal that represents a mature position either for or against any proposal. It’s one thing to say “I’m for it,” it’s another thing to actually support legislation when particulars come. Americans, when asked about an issue like gun control, the same Americans can show up in virtually contradictory positions in the same poll. It all depends how the question is asked. And this is true for so many of the most controversial issues in America today.

There is simply the political fact that if indeed there did exist a super majority for a specific proposal, it would happen. It would happen even with a recalcitrant congress that is not living up to its constitutional responsibility. But the reality is, all of these things look better in generalities than any of them do when in actual policy. And congress eventually has to act on real legislation, actual bills, specific policy proposals. And furthermore, what’s also interesting about Tim Wu’s article, and it is a very interesting article, is the fact that he avoids so many of the issues in which there is undeniable polarization amongst the American people. That polarization is still the basic political fact in the United States today. And that’s because Americans aren’t just divided over politics, they’re divided over more basic worldview issues long before the political issues emerge. That worldview divide is so deep and so basic that even when Americans seem to agree on certain controversial issues, by the time you get down to the reasons why, those reasons are very different.

Part III

Controversy over a Catholic school’s recent decision reveals much about religious liberty and the precursor of the same-sex revolution

But next, I turn to one of the most controversial stories as we went into the weekend, the New York Times headline is this, Catholic Schools Turns Child Away and Faces Revolt. Christine Hauser reporting for the New York Times tells us, “A Catholic school in Kansas is facing pressure to reverse its decision not to enroll a child with married same-sex parents.” Hauser tells us that more than 1,000 people, indeed more than 1,200 now, have signed a petition presented to the institution. The school is the Saint Ann Catholic School in Prairie Village that’s a part of metropolitan Kansas City, urging the leadership of the school to allow the child to enroll. We’re told over a third of the people who had signed the letter by last Friday were members of the local Catholic parish, or had children enrolled at the school. Others belonged to different parishes.

You can pretty much anticipate what was in the letter addressed to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann there in Kansas City. But amongst the paragraphs were these, “One of the many reasons that we choose to send our children to Saint Ann is the welcoming culture, which is central to the original ministry of Jesus Christ.” The letter goes on, “We ask you to consider the many ways that other modern marriages may be inconsistent with the church’s teaching on sacramental marriage. That would include vasectomy, IVF, divorce and remarriage without approved annulment. Further,” says the letter, “Saint Ann does accept non-Catholic children and families into our school, presumably these families are not in marriages that are conformant to the teachings of the church.”

Now, the background to this, of course, involves the specific teachings and policies of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus, of Roman Catholic schools. But similar kinds of issues are going to be addressed by any convictional school, any religious school, and certainly by any kind of protestant or evangelical school. For one thing, the policy here is itself very interesting. It states that the child, though guilty of no sin whatsoever, is not going to be admitted to the school because official Catholic doctrine would declare the marriage of the child’s parents to be null and void, and the parents to be in a relationship that, according to the official canon of the Roman Catholic Church is intrinsically disordered.

But there’s a very interesting twist in this article. At the first level, it appears to be a basic respect of conviction issue, even a religious liberty issue. Even the New York Times kind of complicates the matter by how it reports. Hauser writes, “The controversy in Prairie Village, a city of about 21,000 people in the Kansas City metropolitan area, has highlighted how Catholic institutions generally follow the rules of their diocese even when they conflict with the law.” Now, the way that’s written, you would think that the school had somehow violated the law. The next paragraph says this, “The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. And some state and local laws bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But religious institutions are exempt from those protections.” Well, let’s just state the obvious, if religious institutions are, as they must be, exempt from these regulations, then the school and the diocese are not acting in conflict with the law.

Thus, that previous paragraph would be downright misleading, stating that the issue highlights, “How Catholic institutions generally follow the rules of their diocese, even when they conflict with the law.” There’s no basic conflict with the law when there is built into the law a religious exemption. But you notice here that what we are looking at is the redefinition of religious liberty, so that any kind of convictional community is put on notice, put on the defensive as if every single convictional community is now told, “You are on borrowed time, you are an exemption.” But I said that this issue has an interesting twist, and one that evangelical Christians should note very carefully. The letter addressed to the Kansas City archbishop accuses the leadership of the diocese of being inconsistent and hypocritical, even radically hypocritical, according to some of the parents and others offended. Why? Because the church appears to have drawn the line at this issue while allowing violations of Catholic teaching on other issues.

What’s the big lesson here? Well, it’s simple and profound. It is not only awkward, socially and politically awkward to all of a sudden draw a line at LGBTQ issues when you haven’t held the line on other sexual issues. It is also simply a fact that this inconsistency undermines the credibility of any church or institution or denomination that simply decides to draw the line here after not drawing the line there, even on very clear biblical teachings. I am by no means saying that the diocese in Kansas City is wrong to draw the line here. I think it is necessary. But the problem is, they are now openly accused of being arbitrary and inconsistent, even hypocritical applying Catholic doctrine only when it gets to this issue, ignoring it on previous issues.

In my book, We Cannot Be Silent, I make the point that the sexual revolution came on the basis of a prior revolution in marriage, including the acceptance of divorce early in the 20th century. Not only divorce, but also the birth control and contraceptive revolution that utterly redefined marriage, separating sex and procreation. Thus, by the time you get to the LGBTQ revolution, marriage has already been effectively redefined. The radical redefinition that is now represented by what’s called same-sex marriage came only after there had been previous compromises, previous violations of what the Christian church in virtually all places at all times had recognized as a Christian moral consensus based upon scriptural authority.

So, this story from Kansas City representing what amounts to a major controversy among Catholics there, serves to remind us of at least two big challenges. The first really is the challenge of that collision between the new sexual liberty and religious liberty. But the second is the responsibility of Christian churches, denominations, schools and institutions to be consistent in applying biblical truth less an inconsistency undermine our credibility.

Finally, another big issue here for Christian schools will come down to who is admitted to those schools, because over time if you admit non-Christian families to the school, then you are going to be marketing to non-Christians. And don’t be surprised when those non-Christians announce that they expect their morality, their own convictions, secular as they may be, to be respected within the context of what is supposed to be, or started out to be, a confessional Christian school. Some Christian schools, colleges and universities seek to effectively do the same thing, at least they hope, by behavioral or moral codes for students and faculty. But we’re seeing over and over again the legal and political challenges to those codes if they are separated from any kind of clear religious convictional identity.

It isn’t often that an issue of admissions for a kindergarten in a school in suburban Kansas City becomes a test case for understanding where we stand in the culture. But this one did, and there’s good reason why it did.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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