Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Teen Vogue Goes Rogue: Yet Another Moral Boundary Falls
I first heard of today's main story listening to National Public Radio. A father called in out of concern for his young daughter. But it becomes all the more clear when you consider the headline, for example, that followed later in the day from The Federalist. Here's the headline: “Teen Vogue Encourages Children To Explore Prostitution As A Career.”
It doesn't sound possible. This doesn't appear to be something that's within the zone of probability, but it is. It's actually so. And you can look at the story yourself at Teen Vogue, if you dare.
Chrissy Clark, reporting for The Federalist, tells the story this way. On April 26th, Teen Vogue posted an article titled, “Why Sex Work is Real Work.” The article is by a medical doctor, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng. She is the head of what's known as Nalane Reproductive Justice in South Africa. It appears to be an organization very much like Planned Parenthood.
The article again is entitled, “Why Sex Work is Real Work.” And, as Chrissy Clark tells us, the author, who is also the founder of Nalane Reproductive Justice, explains why she believes sex work should be decriminalized. In the words of the author, "The idea of purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people who need human connection, friendship, and emotional support."
And then, Chrissy Clark, writing for The Federalist, gets right to the point: "What drew outrage beyond the obvious was that the article was published in Teen Vogue, a magazine targeted towards 13-year-old girls."
The NPR coverage was actually not about this controversy, but about transition at Teen Vogue, and that transition tells us a very great deal about what's happening in the culture in the midst of this massive moral revolution—a revolution in morality, in values, in worldview, in ideology, in politics, all here right before our eyes. It's hard to come up with one example more graphic and illustrative than this.
The NPR coverage was pointing to the fact that Teen Vogue, which is, after all, directed as a fashion magazine primarily towards teenage girls, that Teen Vogue had taken in recent years a decidedly political bent. The former publisher of the magazine made very clear that the reason for this was wanting to broaden its readership beyond young women and girls interested in fashion, in order also to attract those who are very interested in social justice, as it's defined, and other kinds of leftist-progressivist issues.
And, as you know, we are told over and over again that younger Americans are far more liberal and far more interested in these issues than older Americans. And thus, Teen Vogue, we are told, entering a brave new day is not decidedly political.
We talked on The Briefing some months ago about the fact that in the 2016 Presidential election, Teen Vogue was even then very political, very transparent in its support for the Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it is also clear that something new has happened. When you're talking about the article in Teen Vogue that became the first issue of our concern today on The Briefing, you're talking about a boundary that has been crashed, not just crossed. It has been crashed.
You're talking about something unimaginable, at least you would think, an article commending sex work or prostitution to adolescent girls in a magazine that intentionally targets a readership as young as 12 and 13 year old girls. And furthermore, when you consider the controversies in our society, when you look at the original issue behind the controversy, it's often less than was advertised. Hardly so here. Well look at the article that was actually published in Teen Vogue, is if anything, even more alarming than the commentary subsequent to it.
In the article, Dr. Mofokeng, with the text I am not going to read word-for-word, compared her role as a medical doctor with prostitution and said that both are basically morally equivalent. If she is able to perform her medical services for a fee, then so also sex workers, among them prostitutes, should be able to do the same thing, without any kind of criminal sanction, without any kind of moral judgment.
She writes, "I do not believe it is right or just that people who exchange sexual services for money are criminalized and I am not for what I do. Is a medical degree really the right measure of who is deserving of dignity, autonomy, safety in the workplace, fair trade, and freedom of employment? No," she writes, "this should not be so. Those who engage in sex work deserve those things too."
Now, we really do have two different issues here. They are operating in parallel in this article. One has to do with the subject matter of the article. The other has to do with the fact that the article appeared in Teen Vogue. You can't surgically separate those issues, but let's just consider the second, first. Let's consider the fact that this is an article that is addressed to young girls—adolescent girls, middle school girls, high school girls, girls who presumably are turning to Teen Vogue because Teen Vogue is derivative of the venerable fashion magazine, Vogue, for adults.
And instead, you have Teen Vogue, that has been now for a number of years directed towards a younger audience. Fashion was the originating impulse behind both Vogue and Teen Vogue. But what we're talking about here is hardly a matter of fashion. This is the moral revolution, landing in this magazine as an explosion. This is a bomb going off.
If we are a part of a society that will tolerate magazines like this, advertising the validity of prostitution to young teenage girls, then quite frankly, we're not the society that we think we are, not even close.
Chrissy Clark writes, "When I was younger, I used to pick up an issue of Teen Vogue before I would head over to the neighborhood pool. The magazines were filled with trendy models, and articles about Selena Gomez. The greatest scandal from what I can recall was the Selena Gomez-Justin Bieber breakup." She then asked the obvious question, "How did a magazine that used to dish about celebrity scandals choose a topic as perverted as sex work to preach to young women about?"
Clark also gets to an even more urgent dimension of this question. She writes, "The article was a slap in the face to those young women who are trafficked and abused at skyrocketing rates. Between 2010 and 2015, there was an increase of reported child sex trafficking by 846%." She goes on to tell us that "in 2014, the Department of Justice reported that more than half of sex trafficking victims are 17 years old or younger." She writes, "While Teen Vogue is pushing a sex liberation agenda on young women, they are bypassing the unfortunate truth that some of their readers may become victims of this industry."
I'm not going to cite much from the article itself, because frankly, much of it is pornographic, and that's another dimension of the story here. We're looking at the fact that this is an article that is actually targeted towards girls as young as 12 and 13, and it both assumes and conveys a level of perverted sexual knowledge that I think is beyond the imagination of most of the people who would pass Teen Vogue in the magazine stacks. And furthermore, it is certainly past the imagination of most parents.
So again, we have to deal with the issue that this is in a magazine directed towards teen girls, very young girls. And furthermore, we have to recognize that for many people, that's the only real issue at stake here. This is one of the interesting developments that Christians need to watch. When a controversy emerges over something like this previously unimaginable article, what is the main concern? Is the concern the moral issue that is at stake, the argument of the article? Or is it that the article appeared in a magazine targeted towards adolescent girls? Those are two urgent moral issues. But it's interesting to note that many people appear to be focusing only on the age issue, the audience issue, not on the argument itself.
But here's where Christians have to understand, we've got to look squarely at both of these dimensions. And that means we have to look at the fact that increasingly, not only in Teen Vogue but in other forums, there are calls to decriminalize prostitution. And what we're looking at here is the ultimate breakdown of the logic of the sexual revolutionaries. Indeed, it's the ultimate breakdown of the logic of those revolutionaries when combined with the energies and ideologies of contemporary feminism, and feminist theory. It is an unholy and horrifying mix.
So ideological feminism claims that women will only be liberated if they are sexually liberated, and that means that women have the right, according to this ideology ... evidently young women as well ... to establish their own sexual identity, to claim it, and to exercise their sexuality in any way they may choose. This liberationist ethic applied to sexuality and identity is central to the modern project of feminism.
That explains why the feminist argument is that a woman ought to have the right—because liberation is, after all, the idolatrist's only important category—that women should have the right to determine their own sexual identity, and what they're going to do with their sexuality. If you don't like it, just deal with it.
But then at the same time, we're living in a society that at least has enough moral sanity to understand that human trafficking is wrong and that sex trafficking is wrong and that there are real victims and that many of these victims, tragically enough in some cases most of these victims, are actually young girls, not only young women but young girls, some as young as the targeted readership of Teen Vogue.
But there's another ideology in this collision and that is the ideology of the sexual liberationists as part of the sexual revolution. They are right now at the point where there is only one moral principle they recognize and that is the moral principle of consent. Their entire sexual ethic comes down to consent. And so their argument is, irreducibly, that any people—I won't even just say two people—who give consent to any kind of sexual activity are legitimate insofar as that consent can be given and is given. And it's also legitimate regardless of the sexual practice or practices involved or even the gender or the number of people who are involved. That is the obvious, irreducible logic of the moral revolutionaries.
But this society also wants to insist that it's deeply concerned about sexual abuse and particularly about the sexual abuse of children. So how do you hold all of this together? A secular society clearly can't hold all of this together. Teen Vogue, a magazine that you would think would be warning young women and girls about the dangers of sex trafficking, and the dangers of child sexual abuse, instead seems to be saying here to young girls that they should consider the fact that prostitution is an entirely valid way of life.
We're going to consider this issue in a different context in just a moment, but one final observation, particularly directed to Christian young people and to Christian parents, the parents of those very young people and children. When you are looking at a periodical like Teen Vogue, we need to speak honestly about what we're dealing with. We are actually dealing with a magazine that is targeted not only to young people, young girls in particular, about fashion. It is also entirely ideologically driven, in a way that many people might not recognize.
But honestly, parents, wake up. There is no excuse for not knowing the truth now. Teen Vogue has not just decided to join the sexual revolution. Teen Vogue has not decided just in the last few days or weeks to become political. It has been so for some time. And furthermore, even before it took this political and moral bent, it was already elevating an understanding of celebrity and fashion that was hardly compatible with the Christian worldview.
Sometimes I come to the conclusion that even Christian parents, they sometimes don't know something because they don't want to know. And this is one of those situations that reminds us that that is just not an option, not for parents who care about their children, not particularly for Christian parents who care not only about the physical and psychological well-being of their children, but also about their souls.
Sexual Liberation and the Normalization of Prostitution? When a Society Loses its Mind
But I mentioned that this is part of a far larger movement. Consider the fact that last Saturday, that's actually between the publication of Teen Vogue and the controversy, The New York Times, the most influential newspaper in the United States and probably the world, published an article with the headline, “Push to End Penalties of Oldest Profession.” Jesse McKinley is the reporter, and you know what the oldest profession is.
"Marijuana has gone mainstream, casino gambling is everywhere, and sports wagering is spreading. Could prostitution be next?" McKinley then writes, "Lawmakers across the country are beginning to reconsider how to handle prostitution, as calls for decriminalization are slowly gaining momentum. Decriminalization bills have,” we are told, “been introduced in Maine and Massachusetts. A similar bill is expected to be introduced to the city council of Washington D.C. in June, and lawmakers in Rhode Island held hearings in April on a proposal to study the impact of decriminalizing prostitution."
The reason the New York Times is covering it is because the issue is coming to New York. "New York may be next. Some Democratic lawmakers are about to propose a comprehensive decriminalization bill that would eliminate penalties for both women and men engaged in prostitution, as well as those defined as the customer."
Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat from Queens, said, "This is about the oldest profession, and understanding that we haven't been able to deter or end it, so I think," she said, "it's time to confront reality."
So here you see another dimension of this. You have lawmakers saying, “Maybe we have now reached the point as a society where we don't have the moral impulse to criminalize prostitution anymore. The ideology of autonomous individualism, the sexual liberation movement, ideological feminism, and frankly, the exhaustion of a society, maybe it's now come to the point where we simply need to decriminalize prostitution.”
But even in the article, it becomes clear that that logic is very problematic, even to a liberal government. Why is it so problematic? Because the government may have the impulse to decriminalize something, but then it has to deal with the fact that it is going to encourage what it has just decriminalized. That is very much the case when it comes to marijuana. Even recent stories making clear the decriminalization of marijuana has led to unintended consequences. But of course Christians have to say, they weren't unintended. You were warned about those consequences before you took that action.
But, it has nonetheless come to pass that those events have happened. Those developments have come. The decriminalization of prostitution means that society is saying, we no longer feel a moral necessity, or a moral impulse, to criminalize and thus to sanction, to try to limit if not to eliminate this kind of behavior.
That makes the introductory sentence of McKinley's article so interesting. Because he begins by writing, "Marijuana has gone mainstream, casino gambling is everywhere, and sports wagering is spreading." In other words, we're a part of a general loosening of mores in this society. Morality is changing, and if it's going to change on marijuana and gambling and sports wagering, if it's going to change on all the other dimensions of sex, if same sex marriage is now legal, then why in the world is it illegal to practice prostitution?
McKinley actually summarized the situation when he writes, "Supporters of decriminalization see their efforts as part of a larger, decades-long liberalization of American mores, like lifting Sunday bans on selling alcohol and legalizing marijuana. They also frame the issue as an act of harm reduction for prostitutes and a tacit admission that modern law enforcement and age-old moral indignation has done little to stem the practice."
That's not actually true. It's like much of the misinformation and propaganda about prohibition in the 20th Century. We are told that prohibition, by which the sale of alcohol was made illegal, was a societal failure. Was it a failure because it didn't completely eliminate the trade and consumption of beverage alcohol? Well, it certainly failed in that count. But it wasn't a failure in the big picture, and that's made evident by the fact that the consumption per capita of alcohol did not recover to pre-prohibition levels until well into the 1960s. That was decades after prohibition came to an end. What was declared to be a failure obviously had far more impact than was understood at the time.
And also, consider the fact that the sale of alcohol right now is not unregulated in the States. There are still laws concerning the sale and consumption of alcohol. And actually, one of the very interesting moral developments of the late 20th Century is evident just when you look at old black and white television or movies. Look at how people drank, and then drove, something that is now clearly criminalized.
The New York Times article tells us that those who are now pushing for the decriminalization of prostitution are framing it as a civil rights movement, a civil rights issue, and you can see exactly how this works. That's how the gay rights movement, as it was known, now the movement for LGBTQ rights, that's how it also made its progress in society. The issue is reframing from sexual behavior to civil rights, and now you see the very same thing being proposed for prostitution.
But honestly, that article that was published in The New York Times, in the Saturday edition of June the 1st, it didn't attract that much attention, not nearly like the article that just appeared at Teen Vogue.
Most Southern Baptists Would Actually Welcome a Female Pastor? Really? A Closer Look at a Recent Headline
But next, we turn to a very different article, this one at Religion News Service by Ryan Burge. The headline: "Most Southern Baptist Women Would Welcome a Woman Pastor. It's Unlikely to Happen." Again, that was the headline.
Burge is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. He's also identified as the pastor of a church which is part of the American Baptist Churches. That's a denomination that very eagerly ordains women to serve as pastors.
In this article, published at Religion News Service, Burge writes about the prohibition on women clergy, which, he says, “is shared by the nation’s two largest faith groups — the 14.8 million member SBC and the Roman Catholic Church.” He deals with the fact that both the SBC and the Roman Catholic Church, in writing, in the Catholic Church's catechism, and in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message, make very clear that women are not permitted to serve as pastors, or as he says in the Roman Catholic Church, as priests.
"That puts these groups at odds with other church groups like the United Methodists, who have ordained women for five decades." Then he writes, "It may also put them at odds with people in the pews." Now, my concern here is not Roman Catholicism, but the Southern Baptist Convention. Is it true, could it possibly be true, that a majority of Southern Baptist women—the headline said "most Southern Baptist women would welcome a woman pastor”? Furthermore, arguments have been made that Southern Baptists in general, both men and women, would be generally in favor of a woman serving as pastor of their church.
To put it bluntly, I don't believe it. I don't even think it's remotely true. So what would be the argument? Well, Burge points to the 2011 Faith Matters survey, which he rightly says is a study from Harvard and Notre Dame that surveyed 2,646 Americans and asked respondents how much they agreed with the statement, "Women should be allowed to be priests or clergy in my house of worship?"
He says that three-quarters of Americans, 77.8% specifically, agree with the statement. He then writes, "That includes two-thirds, 64.7%, of Southern Baptists." He continues, "Southern Baptist women in particular seem ready to accept women as pastors. Three-quarters, 73.1% of female Southern Baptists," he says, "favor women in the pulpit, compared to just 58.1% of Southern Baptist men. And," he says, "half of Southern Baptist women, along with four in ten men, strongly support women clergy."
Shortly thereafter he writes, "Looked at from this view, a doctrinal change for the SBC on this issue would seem to please many more people than it would anger. So," he asks, "why hasn't it happened?" He then writes, and I quote: "This reluctance to change seems linked to how often Southern Baptist men go to church." He then says he "broke the SBC data down to four groups based on biblical literalism and gender, along with controls for race and education." In his words, "For women, there is no discernible relationship, meaning whether a Southern Baptist woman is a biblical literalist or not, there is no statistically significant change in her view of women as pastors, at any level of church attendance. The same," he says, however, "is not true for men."
He says that "men who attend church more frequently," and here he means the Southern Baptist Church, "are more likely to oppose a woman serving as pastor." So why does the denomination have an official position, which according to Ryan Burge is contrary to the beliefs of the majority of those who are in our churches? Well, he makes one suggestion, "I think it's fair to say that many of the messengers, that is those who are gathered as official representatives of the churches in Birmingham for the recent Southern Baptist Convention, "are pastors of Southern Baptist Churches."
He continues, "They must be male. They are very likely biblical literalists, and they obviously attend church multiple times a week." In an article that he wrote, published on October the 25th, 2017, entitled, “Who's Afraid of Female Clergy,” he made more or less the same kind of argument. Here too, he linked beliefs about women serving as pastors with church attendance and not just for the Southern Baptist Convention.
He wrote, "I analyzed how church attendance is linked to views on the topic. The Faith Matters survey gives respondents multiple options to report their religious attendance. Here, the opposition to female clergy comes more sharply into focus. Those who attend church often," he writes, "are less supportive of female clergy. Among those who attend religious services multiple times a week, 42.7% are unfavorable toward women in church leadership, which means," he says, "that even amongst the most faithful, female clergy has majority support. Throughout all this analysis," he writes, "this is the group that stands most clearly in opposition."
After that he writes, "To take a step back, I was amazed at how my perceptions of opposition to female clergy do not square at all with the survey evidence. It seems that the only voices that represent those of Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics are the clergy, while the congregants stay silent in their disagreement."
Well consistently since 1984, the Southern Baptist Convention has made very clear that it believes that the office of pastor is restricted to men, not to all men, but to men who are clearly called by God to that purpose. That's been consistent since 1984. In the year 2000, that consensus was so clear that Southern Baptists put this conviction in the denomination's Confession of Faith, the Baptist Faith and Message.
Is it true that the vast majority of people at the Convention are men and also are ministers? Well, we don't have the data from 2019 yet, but in 2018, one-third of all the messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention that year in Dallas were women. And, it turns out, that in 2018, 39% of the messengers were ministers. So, there were a lot of women messengers in 2018, and the majority of the messengers were not ministers. So much for that theory.
But this is the kind of article that gets a lot of attention in the press, and I'll go back to where I began. I don't believe this is true. I don't believe it's even comprehensible that a majority of Southern Baptist women—again, the headline said, "Most Southern Baptist women would welcome a woman pastor." I don't believe that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are ready to have a woman serve as pastor, and instead, Southern Baptists have made clear at every opportunity that that is not Southern Baptist belief. It's not compatible with being a church that's a part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But there's something else missing from this analysis. Churches call their own pastors. Every single church is autonomous. Every single church is able to call the pastor that it believes God would have them to call. There is no denominational headquarters to send a pastor. There's no bishop to assign a pastor. Pastors are not inflicted upon churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. If a Southern Baptist congregation wanted to call a woman as pastor, all it would have to do is call a woman as pastor. There is no external authority preventing that from happening.
But even as there are roughly 40,000 Southern Baptist churches, every one of those churches calling its own pastor, not one of those churches has a woman as pastor. That's clearly missing from this kind of argument. What's also missing is the fact that when you are talking about this kind of survey, it turns out that no one's really proving what their denominational membership is. They say they're Baptist or they're Baptist in the South or they're Southern Baptists. I'm not saying that all of these people aren't Southern Baptists, I'm simply saying the Southern Baptists who actually decided who's going to be pastor of a Southern Baptist church are—you're there ahead of me—the Baptists who go to church. And the Baptists who go to church and hear the preaching of God's Word and operate under biblical authority, and they then call a pastor, they don't call women as pastors.
So when I look at an argument telling us that most Southern Baptists would be happy to have a woman as pastor, I simply want to say, well evidently, Southern Baptists don't know that.