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The Atlantic

How a Gay Character on Arthur Reflects Changing Norms in the U.S., by Ashley Fetters and Natalie Escobar

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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The intensity of the abortion debate in the United States reaches a new level as Alabama bill banning abortion is signed into law

The massive news over the last several hours has had mostly to do with the question of abortion, and ground zero for the question has been the state of Alabama. On Tuesday, Alabama Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a measure already passed by the Alabama House that effectively outlaws abortion, period, in the state of Alabama. A limited exemption was negotiated into the law at the last minute granting an exemption in the case of a woman whose life was at risk because of the pregnancy. No exception for pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest.

The overwhelming national response indicates that we have now reached a new moment in America's conflict between the powerful forces for abortion and powerful forces against abortion. You are now looking at the fact that even as in the United States, there has been an abortion rights movement and a pro-life movement for decades, we have seen that state after state has shown up markedly generally in one commitment or in the other. You have states that are very clearly identified as ardently pro-abortion and those who are identified as ardently pro-life.

Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the map of America when you look at the question of abortion is becoming an intensity hauntingly like the map of the United States before the Civil War. We are looking at an issue as basic as human life. We are looking at a question that comes down to whether or not a woman has a right in the US Constitution to kill an unborn baby within her.

That's what we're looking at but the entire context changed yesterday when Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, signed the legislation and thus, Alabama, six months from now according to the legislation passed, will be moving into the position as a state that effectively outlaws abortion, period. One of the central issues at stake was made clear by Slate.com in a tweet that came on Tuesday night at 11:15 p.m. The tweet read, "The Alabama Senate just passed an abortion law that specifically and intentionally violates the Constitution of the United States." Is that true or is that false? Well, Alabama has certainly now passed into law, a law that is in direct conflict with the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade.

But when you look at that tweet in just a few words, Slate accomplished making the issues abundantly clear. When you look back to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, what you will not find and what the justices in the majority did not even claim was that the United States Constitution in any of its sections or in any of its words comes even close to addressing the issue of abortion. Of course, it does not.

Furthermore, it's impossible to argue that the founders of this nation and the framers of the Constitution met in any sense to affirm what is now declared to be a woman's right to an abortion. You have to understand what happened at the United States Supreme Court when liberal justices began to go outside the text and the meaning of the Constitution and instead to declare that they had found within the meaning of the Constitution what one justice infamously called penumbras emanating from the actual text of the Constitution. That is to say, no sane person could claim that the Constitution uses these words or even addresses this issue or furthermore, that the framers of the Constitution had any such intention.

But there's a logic within the Constitution they argue and there's a logic within American society that means that even though abortion was not envisioned and is not there, they could claim that a right to privacy, which is also not formally declared within the Constitution, would apply to what was declared then to be a woman's right to an abortion. And so, you had the contraceptive decisions of the 1960s going all the way to the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973. Abortion was not then, and it is not now in the Constitution, but it is in the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court.

So when Slate.com says that the Alabama Senate has just passed an abortion law that specifically and intentionally violates the Constitution of the United States, the reality is that Alabama did now pass a law that intentionally violates and contradicts the Roe v. Wade decision. But the entire argument of the pro-life movement from the beginning is that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, that it's Roe v. Wade that is unconstitutional.

But that just points to a fundamental divide even over how a text is to be read and what the authority of the text is to be understood and conceded to be. We now lack a consensus in the United States even about what the Constitution says because liberal jurisprudence has liberated the meaning of the Constitution from its words and from the intention of those who framed them.

There's so much to consider here but we do need to look most urgently at the immediate response to the developments in Alabama. It's not just the Slate.com tweet, it is also in responses that have become, for example, from the major contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And as Matt Stevens of The New York Times reports, "Among the measure's most forceful critics were the leading women candidates Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has made fighting for women central to her campaign."

But the women candidates were also joined by the male candidates, at least in the main. Most interestingly the former Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, went on to declare, "Roe v. Wade is settled law and should not be overturned. This choice," he said, "should remain between a woman and her doctor." One of the interesting twist in that particular tale is the fact that Joe Biden also claims a Catholic identity although the Roman Catholic church is exceedingly clear about its moral opposition to abortion.

Furthermore, Joe Biden, as even The New York Times pointed out, had at one point in his long political career voted for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed individual states to overturn Roe v. Wade. But as we say often that was then and this is now, and Joe Biden is running for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020, which means he has to create an awful lot of distance between the Joe Biden of decades past.

Another very interesting aspect of the response has been the fact that many of the abortion rights proponents in the United States have tried to dismiss the development in Alabama because they say the legislators were overwhelmingly male. Well, let's just look at the Alabama Senate. There are only 35 members and 31 of them are men. By the way the measure passed the Senate by a vote of 25 to 6. That add up to only 31 somehow. Not all 35 senators voted. But let's look at the reality. There are 31 men out of a total of 35 seats.

So is it fair to say that this was a group of men, predominately white men, who are taking an action to affect the lives of women? Well, let's just consider something that's really important on this question but it's not addressed by most in the mainstream media. When you look at pro-life conviction in the United States, when you look at the pro-life movement, here's the reality. The majority of those involved in the movement are not men, they are women.

And furthermore, basic research such as that undertaken by the Gallup organization, a recent poll on this question by the way was released just in June the 14th of 2018, it turns out that a greater percentage of women are pro-life than even man. So even though the Alabama Senate is overwhelmingly male, it turns out that that's not true of pro-life conviction in the United States.

The last stage of the debate over the Alabama legislation was also extremely important and here we need to think very, very clearly. The big question was whether or not exemptions would be written into the law. The traditional exemptions are three. They've been politically negotiated in most pro-life legislation. The exemptions are when a woman's life is at risk or when the pregnancy is caused by rape or by incest.

Now, a simple reflection on this issue will underline three very important issues. There are very few pregnancies in which a woman's life is actually at stake. And Christians understand that when a woman's life is at stake, it is not wrong to save the life of the mother. It is wrong to intend an abortion. It is not wrong if an abortion becomes a secondary effect of some kind of surgery necessary to save the life of the mother. This has been amongst Christians relatively non-controversial issue. We cannot will or intend an abortion, but it is not wrong to save a woman's life and when there are excruciating choices as sometimes the rarely must be made in medicine, the Christian worldview has affirmed that it is not wrong to save the life of the mother.

Now, you'll notice that the word here is life, when her life is at risk rather than her life and her health. That's true in Alabama legislation. It's life, not life and health. What's the distinction there? Well, going all the way back to the early 1970s, it became very clear that the phrase a woman's health had been expanded not only to issues that would be legitimately thought of as health concerns, but had instead been extended to emotional health and psychological health. Meaning that just about any reason a woman might give could be considered in a psychotherapeutic construct to be a risk to a woman's health and thus, to justify an exemption to a pro-life law. And so, it was not by accident that in Alabama, health was removed but life was retained. That means that there has to be some kind of case made that a woman's life was actually at risk because of the pregnancy.

Missing from the exemptions in Alabama are the other two, when the pregnancy has been caused or was claimed to have been caused either by rape or by incest. Now, what would be the logic of that? It's really interesting to look at and to listen to the actual debate in the Alabama Senate. The debate got down to fundamental issues that Christians have to understand with tremendous weightiness. If indeed after the moment of conception, and by conception we mean when the moment of fertilization takes place and the new human life begins to develop. At that moment, it is a human being at that moment. We believe that life has begun at that moment. God said, "Let there be life," at that moment. This unborn child deserves full protection.

This raises an extremely important issue. When it comes to the reality of the being of this child, it is not morally meaningful about the being of the child how the child was conceived, whether or not the child was conceived by means of a man and a wife married to each other or if there was some act of rape or incest. That is not an issue that determines what theologically we would have to call the ontological status of the unborn child. That is to say the status of its being and whether or not it deserves the protection of a civilized society.

Here, there are at least a couple of issues that come into play and we need to watch how they function. The first is emotion. There is enormous emotional intensity when it is claimed or demonstrated that a pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Both of those are inherently sinful. Both of those contexts represent an assault upon the woman. Both of them mean that she was impregnated by immoral means. But it is the means that would rightly be defined as being immoral, not the baby that would be produced. This is really important for Christians to understand that we do not believe there are any illegitimate children. We do believe there are illegitimate and immoral means whereby a pregnancy can be produced, but that's a very crucial distinction.

And furthermore, it's a distinction that virtually everyone would recognize once the child is born. Not even the most ardent pro-abortionist would dare argue that a child is illegitimate once born because of the circumstances of the conception. But you'll notice that the argument shifts among the pro-abortionists when it comes to when the child is not yet born. And that's because abortion rights override just about everything else in the pro-abortion mentality and in the worldview that it produces.

But the second issue we have to watch here is political. It is political expediency that has led legislators in most cases before the Alabama law to write in exemptions on the basis of rape and incest. And here, you have a really interesting debate amongst pro-lifers. The debate comes down to this: does ideological consistency mean that a pro-life legislator is sinning and is doing wrong by giving support to legislation that would include exceptions for the life and health of the mother and for conception in the case of rape or incest? That's a huge question. Is it sin or is it not?

The overwhelming consensus of the pro-life movement going all the way back to even before Roe v. Wade was that it was not wrong and it was not sin to accept those exemptions so long as it was argued that over the long term, the great hope was for a pro-life consensus in this country that would render those exemptions unnecessary. That is the exemptions other than when the pregnancy is a demonstrated risk to the life of the mother.

When it comes to the exemptions for rape and incest, the argument has been this is what is politically possible now. Given the map, this means we will be able to prevent the overwhelming majority of abortions. But it's an open question. It's an ongoing debate in the pro-life movement and that debate has now reached a new level of intensity because of the developments just over the last 48 hours in the state of Alabama.

Part

The new Alabama abortion law sets the stage for potentially overturning Roe v. Wade, but will the Supreme Court hear the case?

There's another huge question here and that comes down to political prudence and timing. You have major media looking, for example, at the distinction between the pro-life movement that just won this massive victory in Alabama and the pro-life movement, just to take another example, within the state of Texas. The mainstream of the pro-life movement in Texas which is also made several legislative gains in recent years, the pro-life consensus is that there should not yet be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade such a challenge that it's an up or down vote. Was Roe right or was Roe wrong? Is Roe to continue or will Roe be reversed?

That has been the logic in state such as Texas. In Alabama, it's the exact opposite logic. Now is the time to pass this kind of legislation which is undeniably a direct challenge to Roe and to set up what could be before the Supreme Court an entirely clear up or down vote on the constitutionality of Roe now questioned over 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Until these most recent developments, the mainstream pro-life strategy in the United States have been to take advantage of an opening that was brought about by the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Pennsylvania. In that case, the court found that certain restrictions on abortion were constitutional even after Roe. And so what we have seen in recent months intensely has been a pattern by which state after state has adopted increased restrictions on Roe effectively, to use a word that has appeared over and over again in the media, chipping away at the logic of Roe.

But the Alabama legislation now signed into law by Governor Ivey doesn't chip away at the logic of Roe. It represents a direct challenge. So, where we go from here? Does this mean that the Supreme Court of the United States soon will take up a direct challenge to this Alabama law? Well, maybe so and maybe not. It is within the purview of the United States Supreme Court to decide which cases it will and will not take.

Here's something to watch and to watch with tremendous interest. There are so many of these pro-life laws that have now been passed into the books, most importantly the heartbeat bills that you will see the Supreme Court decide to take one of these or several of these or none of these. It's going to be very interesting to see how this happens, but eventually we're going to have a pattern the Supreme Court of the United States cannot ignore, and that is when you have two appellate circuits that are in conflict over the question.

At that point, the Supreme Court almost always has to decide the question. We are probably only about two years from that development. But if the Supreme Court ends up taking a challenge to the Alabama law and it takes it up as a clean question and a direct issue, it probably would not do so unless a majority of the justices on the court were now ready to overrule or to reverse Roe v. Wade.

It could be that generations from now, pro-life Americans are still arguing over the right strategy that should have been taken in 2018. We see two very different strategies underway, the chip away strategy and the directly confront strategy. Which one will win, which one will be taken before the court, how the court will rule on these questions, that still remains to be seen.

But American Christians should at least pause and reflect for a moment. We had no reason 15 years ago to believe that America would have this kind of movement, a pro-life legislation that we've seen over the course of the last several months. This is an extremely important moment in American history. I am certain of this: if Americans have the opportunity in generations to come, they are going to look back to the year 2019 as a decisive year in the history of the United States of America dealing with the challenge of abortion and the question of the sanctity of human life.

But this much is exceedingly clear, American Christians must not only work for but must also pray for the preservation of unborn life and the return of this nation to an ethic that undergirds the sanctity of every single human life, born and not yet born.

Part

PBS depicts gay wedding on ‘Arthur’: How the sexual revolution seeks to normalize its own morality by targeting children

But next, there are always other developments in our culture and one of them has to do with children's television, in this case, on PBS, on public television. Headline in The New York Times, "On Arthur, a same sex wedding." The subhead, "An animated show joins a daytime diversity movement". The article is by Sandra E. Garcia. She writes, "During the season premiere of the animated series Arthur on Monday, Arthur, Francine, Buster and Muffy spend most of their time trying to play matchmaker for their third-grade teacher, Mr. Ratburn."

"In the end, Mr. Ratburn has his own plans. He ties the knot with Patrick, a chocolatier, at a wedding attended by the students. 'Mr. Ratburn is married, I still can't believe it,' says Arthur. 'Yup, it's a brand-new world,' Francine responds." The episode is entitled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” and as Garcia tells us, "It was the latest moment in daytime television to include a more diverse set of characters as it kicked off the show's 22nd season."

Maria Vera Whelan, the senior director of marketing, communications, and social media for children's media and education at PBS said, "PBS Kids programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it's important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS Kids every day." Well, that's exactly the kind of statement you would expect from a PBS bureaucrat. But make no mistake, what we are looking at here is a war for the minds of America's children and daytime television is for all kinds of debatable reasons, nonetheless, one of the ways to reach those hearts and minds.

By the way, one of the interesting reflections made by many millennials when they saw this headline was, "What? You're telling me they're still making new episodes of Arthur?" But we are talking about the 22nd season, and thus, you can look back over two decades and you can see profound moral change in the United States of America. It would have been inconceivable 22 seasons ago that Mr. Ratburn would be married, much less that he would marry a man, Patrick, a cartoon chocolatier.

Well, you can pretty much predict who's going to be really happy about this and who's not. On the happy side would be GLAAD, that's an organization that affirms LGBT and tracks such representation in the mainstream media and entertainment. The New York Times mentions that a 2018-19 report by GLAAD found that 8.8% of broadcast scripted series regulars are LGBTQ characters. That's a record high of the 857 series regular characters counted on 111 primetime scripted shows across a variety of networks. 75 identified as LGBTQ. That's an increase from 58 in 2017.

What's most important there is not the array of numbers but the increase. Between 2017 and 2018, the number was up from 58 to 75 and you know it won't stop at 75. Because now it has become the new normal expectation that shows have to signal their virtue and to signal that they're on the right side of history by doing everything they can to draw attention to just how much they're going to celebrate the LGBTQ revolution.

One of the dimensions of this story has to do with the fact that we are talking about PBS, that is the Public Broadcast System. That means we're talking about a system that is funded by the American taxpayer. Funds are confiscated from Americans by taxation. Some of that tax confiscated money is then sent to PBS. And what we see here has something conservatives in the United States been concerned about for now about a half century, and that is that the taxpayer monies of Americans are being directed to one side in a moral revolution.

And you might have PBS or at least a bureaucrat, they will try out to say, "No, this is just about representing the adults in the lives of children." But as others have noted, they are basically claiming to be the chicken rather than the egg. But in reality, when you're looking at entertainment when you have the celebrations amongst the LGBTQ community, the major media and entertainment, they are celebrated as the egg, not the chicken, which is to say they produced the revolution. The revolution did not produce their most recent entertainment decisions.

A more insightful article appeared at The Atlantic is by Ashley Fetters and Natalie Escobar. The headline just about says it all, "How a gay character on Arthur reflects changing norms in the US?" The subhead in this article, "This week, PBS portrayed a same-sex relationship on a children's TV series and got more positive feedback than the last time it tried." Now that's really interesting, so it tried in a previous program at a previous year but it got too much blowback.

But here's what we need to know, PBS does not expect to get any such blowback now nor should we predict that it will happen. Why? Because we are experiencing massive moral change in the United States, and Arthur just becomes the latest cartoon in just about every way we could imagine that word that makes that clear.

In The Atlantic article, the central question is asked, "Perhaps the real-life normalization of same-sex relationships has led to better onscreen representation, or perhaps better onscreen representation has contributed to real-life normalization. Or," says The Atlantic, "perhaps both are true." But this is where American Christians and parents in particular need a step back and recognize that this isn't just a question about which came first to the representation on television or the change in moral norms. The reality is they certainly went hand-in-hand. But it is really interesting to note that Hollywood brags about its impact when it has the opportunity to do so before an LGBTQ audience, and we have no doubt that there's really something to that bragging.

But what Christians need to understand are two different categories. The first is moral reinforcement and the other is the patrolling of norms. Here's what happens in a moral revolution. First of all, you have the reinforcement of the moral judgment. So what you have when Arthur presents this kind of same sex marriage script is the messaging being sent to children, certainly as the primary audience, but also to their parents. This is just the new normal, get used to it. It is the reinforcement of a norm in such a way that the moral messaging is not only that you should see this and declare it to be normal, but that something is wrong with you and you are badly out of step if you do not celebrate what is here being depicted.

But the second issue here is the patrolling of norms and that is because when you have this kind of programming, it doesn't emerge out of nothing. There were editors and producers and directors and funders. There were members of boards and there were others who were involved in a strategy deciding exactly how this was going to be done, and even before that it was going to be done, and how it was going to be handled when it was done.

And at every one of those stages, you can count on the fact that members of the LGBT community were doing the patrolling of the norms. You won't have conservative parents brought into that situation. They'll be kept far away. Why? Because the powers that be when it comes to patrolling the moral norms, they're the people behind the moral revolution, not the people who are resisting it.

And then as a final reflection when you think about this, it tells you just about everything about the moral confusion going on in America today, because here I am talking seriously about a cartoon rat and a cartoon aardvark getting married. The rat is a teacher and the aardvark is a chocolatier, and they both are male. And according to the cartoon, they are now married.

So, I don't know what's more remarkable or more sad. The fact that this happened or the fact that right here, right now, we had to talk about it. Or to put it another way, I had no idea that just this week, Mr. Ratburn would cause me heartburn.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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