briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, June 20, 2019

It’s Thursday, June 20, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Is Really Revealed in the Gender-Reveal Controversy? Common Grace vs. the Sexual Revolution

Back in the good old days, cake was about cake. We enjoyed eating cake. We enjoyed celebrations that had cake. But cake didn’t have deep social and moral meaning. But now, we are told, it does and in a very troubling way. What would be troubling about cake? Well, the issue here is the cake that is used in gender-reveal parties. It turns out that is an insult to the new moral revolutionaries and their understanding that rejects a gender binary. And thus, no blue cakes, no pink cakes, no gender-reveal parties. Out with the cake.

It’s not often that the food section of the New York Times makes The Briefing, but yesterday’s edition did. On the front of the section, an article by Kim Severson with the headline, “Stick a Fork in the Gender-Reveal Cake?” The headline is followed by a question mark. Severson writes, “Cake is asked to do so much, what with all the weddings, and birthdays, and office parties for colleagues headed off to greener pastures. And that’s not even counting more modern pressures, like looking good on social media and starring in Supreme Court cases.” She goes on, “But here’s a reveal that will most likely come as good news to cakes everywhere: they may no longer have to announce the sex of an impending baby.”

Now, one of the things we’re going to note today on The Briefing is how to read this kind of news article or a feature article in the major media, because oftentimes, the headline doesn’t match the story. In this case, the lead of the article, the beginning sentences of the article, they also don’t match the end of the story. But we’re not there yet. So, let’s consider what we’ve been told already. We’ve been told that the age of the gender-reveal cake might be coming to a conclusion, and it’s not because of the substitution of some newer food. It is because the end of the gender binary, according to the sexual revolutionaries, means that it is now an imposition of an artificial gender identity to say that a child is a boy or a girl simply based upon the child’s reproductive parts.

Severson continues, “The gender-reveal cake first gained traction around 2009 when reality TV stars and everyday couples alike began cutting open cakes dyed pink or blue and broadcasting the event on network morning shows or YouTube, which was then all of four years old. The entire gender-reveal phenomenon has now become big business.” Severson writes, “In the decade since, bakeries dedicated solely to gender-reveals have opened. Cake pops and cupcakes have been conscripted. Supermarket chains have developed gender-reveal cake protocols for their bakers.” She continues, “The urge to brag about the baby has moved far beyond desserts. Genders can now be declared by lasagnas with tinted ricotta, nail art, or alligators. A gender-reveal involving a rifle and a target,” she writes, “caused an explosion last fall that burned more than 45,000 acres in Arizona,” revealing, we should say, not only the baby’s sex.

Severson makes another point… after all, this is the food section… by writing, quote, “Cake, meanwhile, has been pressed into service to break all manner of news, including college acceptances and vasectomies.” But speaking of gender-reveal cakes, the article sites Rebecca Gruber, identified as vice president for branded content at the media and technology company, PopSugar. She, according to the article, believes that the phenomenon is waning, “assailed in part by the national discussion about gender identity.”

Severson asked the question, “How did we get here?” She explains, “The gender-reveal cake emerged from a mash-up of baking trends, social shifts, and technology.” The technology is social media, and she points out that both Pinterest and Instagram were born in 2010. That’s just one year after the first recorded gender-reveal cakes as a part of the phenomenon. She points out that Pinterest and Instagram were “ready-made platforms to broadcast the big reveal, and show off an increasingly elaborate subculture of cake decorating.”

But in ways that transcend even the gender-reveal, cake has turned political, this food editor tells us. She writes, “Cake, of course, has long played a symbolic role, from the barley cakes the ancient Romans served at weddings, to the Chinese bean-paste cakes that celebrate the new year.” She goes on and mentions others. But then she writes, “Now, in 21st-century America, cake is being pressed into service for societal conflicts that have nothing to do with celebrations or deliciousness.”

She points out the fact that some women celebrities in Hollywood used cake in order to protest the election of President Donald Trump, speaking of the phenomenon of sheet-caking, which we are told emerged from feminist protests against the 2016 election. If you lost the election, you eat a lot of cake. Sheet-caking is defined in the article as, “the act of gorging on a sheet cake to soothe emotional or political distress, associated most famously with Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey.”

But the reason we’re talking about this article today on The Briefing is that it is about specifically the gender-reveal cake and the fact that according to this front-page food section article in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, we are now living in a time of moral transition in which people now know better than to believe that a baby’s sex at birth is actually the child’s sexual identity or gender identity. And thus, the article tells us, “Gender-reveal cakes are losing popularity because they fetishize babies’ parts,” I’m going to use that word, “and underscore outdated social constructs of gender roles.”

We are told that some of the moral revolutionaries, especially those who associate with the T in LGBTQ, those who reject the gender binary and declare the absolute fluidity of gender identity, they are now creating cakes of their own in order to make a statement. It’s not exactly clear in this article what in the world that statement could mean translated into a cake. We are told of one activist baker who “especially enjoys posting Twitter pictures of kitschy cakes that promote extreme gender roles.” I don’t even want to imagine what those cakes would look like.

We are told that some bakers have tired of the gender-reveal cake phenomenon because it has become so normalized. One baker said that she will continue to bake gender-reveal cakes, but she went on to say, “Wouldn’t it be a glorious world if this whole gender-reveal cake moment would go away for good?” Would it really?

The article takes an interesting turn when it continues, “It may never,” that means the gender-reveal cake moment, “might never go away for good. The gender-reveal cake could end up cemented in the baby industrial complex like silly shower games or baby wipe warmers, rather than fading like a dead star.”

Now, just remember that the article came with a headline about sticking a fork in the gender-reveal cake, and it began with paragraphs telling us that it just might be that the gender-reveal cake is going to pass away because Americans no longer believe in a gender binary. But by the time you get to the end of the article, it takes a swerve.

A baker near Tampa, Florida said, “I think it’s always going to be a part of the culture, just from the increase in what we’ve seen.” And then, the article ends with a final word from Rose Levy Beranbaum, who’s identified as the exacting author of The Cake Bible and several other baking books. “Now 75,” we are told, “She has made more than 100 wedding cakes, and is not afraid to fight off gimmicks.” The article continues, “Someone once asked her to make a cake in the shape of a cockroach to hang from the ceiling so guests could take bites from it. She refused.” She said, “I think you should have some respect for cake.” Speaking of gender-reveal cake, she said, “I’m really a classicist. I’m about things that are here to last and that are delicious. So, if there’s a way to do it so it would be good to eat, why not? It’s yet another way to present a cake.”

So, let’s just ponder this article for a moment. The big importance of this article is the basic declaration, at least to the readership of The New York Times, that the gender binary is over. We are now living, according to the worldview here, in an age of gender fluidity. In an age of gender fluidity, following the logic of the moral revolutionaries, following especially the ideology of the T in LGBTQ, the transgender revolution, when a baby is born, even though the baby is born clearly male or female, that doesn’t mean that the baby is going to assume a gender identity as male or female or, for that matter, either male or female. But it could be anything in between, as the gender revolutionaries now claim.

And yet, when you have this kind of phenomenon, it comes back to the fact that I don’t believe for a moment that gender-reveal cakes are going to pass away. Furthermore, I don’t think that the cake is the issue at all. And thus, this article is most important, not because it appears in the food section, but because it points to a bigger worldview issue. Here’s the fact: the article begins with a headline that indicates that Americans are over the binary; and thus, the gender-reveal cake just doesn’t fit anymore. But the article ends by saying that evidently it’s not going to go away, and you have major grocery chains and others deciding even to expand their gender-reveal cake business.

What does that tell us? Well, what it tells us is a demonstration of common grace. God’s common grace is the fact that He has put restraint against evil in our society. He has made every single human being in His image, and as a part of that image, we have a moral consciousness, whether we are aware of it or not. And thus, even though the moral revolutionaries say that it is now a modern moral heresy to dare to say when a baby is born male, “It’s a boy,” or is born female, “It’s a girl,” or if you find out by ultrasound or other technology in advance, “It is a boy” or “It is a girl”—even though we are told that that is heresy, the vast majority, the vast majority of American parents, even modern, liberal, progressive parents who think they’re so with it with the gender revolution, they still say, “We’re going to have a boy. We’re going to have a girl.” They still tell older siblings, “You’re going to have a baby brother,” or, “You’re going to have a baby sister.” Why? Because it’s true.

There is a basic binary structure that God has put in the entire world, especially when it comes to reproduction. There is a binary consciousness as well as a binary reality that God has created as essential to what it means to be human. “Male and female created He them,” and that is a basic binary that is essential to our common understanding. It’s reflected in nature. That’s common grace. It’s reflected in our own imaginations. That’s also common grace. But it’s also reflected even in the reflexive language that we use. Even liberal parents who think they are sold out to the moral revolution, they still can’t avoid saying, “It’s a boy,” or, “It’s a girl.”

The issue isn’t the cake, but when it comes to the gender-reveal cake, my guess is it’s a lasting phenomenon. And the cake is going to be, in the overwhelming number of cases, thanks be to God, pink or blue. I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about many cakes of many colors.

Part II

Virtue Signaling in Corporate America: What’s Really Behind a Recent Letter from 180 CEOs

Next, in recent days, we’ve seen yet another dimension of the moral revolution. Rachel Siegel, writing for The Washington Post a headline: “Abortion Restrictions Hurt Business, 180 CEOs Say in Open Letter.” The subhead in the article: “States that limit reproductive rights undermine efforts to build a diverse workforce and attract talent, the leaders say.” Siegel writes, “More than 180 CEOs signed an open letter opposing state efforts to restrict abortion rights, as business leaders weigh how to most effectively exert pressure against abortion bans.”

Before going further, we’ll look at the lead, the first words in this article, and we note that we’re now supposed to take as normal that American CEOs, the titans of business, consider it as a part of their responsibility to “exert pressure against abortion bans.” That’s telling enough. Siegel continues, “Square chief executive and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as well as fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg and others wrote that restrictions on abortion access threaten the economic stability of their employees and customers and make it harder to build a diverse workforce and recruit talent.”

The article continues, “The letter, which appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times, marks the business community’s latest foray into a polarizing societal issue. The chief executives of Bloomberg News, Atlantic Records, Yelp, and Warby Parker, among others, have aligned themselves with such groups as Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.”

Well, indeed, I’ve looked not only at the ad, but at every single CEO whose name appears in the ad. It’s kind of a who’s who, especially of the corporate left. It is a set of businesses that seems to be tilted towards the millennial generation and very much toward the cultural creatives, particularly in entertainment or in fashion. No real surprise there. Those have been the dimensions of modern American business that have tended in a more socially or morally liberal trajectory for some time now.

The text signed by the CEO says, “The future of gender equality hangs in the balance, putting our families, communities, businesses, and the economy at risk.” It’s an amazing argument when you think about it. We are being told that abortion, the killing of unborn babies, is essentially good for business. We are also told that gender equality hangs in the balance. This goes back to a central argument made by the advocates of Roe v. Wade back in the early 1970s, arguing that if men and women were going to be functionally equal, then women would have to have the right to be as un-pregnant as a man is at any given moment. That is the exact logic of Roe v. Wade. A woman can’t be equal if at any point she might be pregnant when she doesn’t want to be, because a man can’t be pregnant when he doesn’t want to be, and thus, the situation would be unequal.

But the big issue for us to observe here in this ad signed by 180 CEOs is that we are watching a moral revolution in motion. We are seeing how it works. We are seeing that at some point, there is a tipping point in the culture. When businesses, or at least some businesses, decide they want to be seen as… you’ve heard it before… on the right side of history, they want to signal to their customers or perhaps even to each other. But that raises a couple of other issues.

It’s not an accident that this advertisement, this open letter, appeared in The New York Times. Why? It is because, presumably, the readers of The New York Times would be the very kinds of people who would look for this kind of virtue signaling coming from corporations in a very morally liberal position, this time on the question of abortion. That’s important for us to know. This doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the country writ large. It tells us about the advertisement that was placed in The New York Times, directed towards the readers of The New York Times.

But there’s another dimension here. We are looking at the out-sized influence of the cultural creatives and the coastal elites. What we need to watch that makes this development even more ominous is that, even though it isn’t likely that this represents the vast mainstream of American corporations, it does at least represent where you have the leading edge of corporate movement in the United States. And that means that these are the people who largely provide the entertainment culture and the entertainment product. They’re the people who create the fashion industry. What we need to note is that these businesses influence other businesses in a chain reaction that’s a bigger threat than we might recognize.

We also have to understand that these corporate CEOs inhabit themselves a very rarefied social existence. They’re a part of a very small group that tends to have graduated from the same schools and to be members of the same club. And they also tend to share the very same worldview, and that means the very same morality. These are the people who show up again and again on the list of progressive causes. But here’s where we need to note that when we look at mainstream American business, the reality is it’s probably not far behind this open letter, but just a bit behind this letter.

The issue we need to see is that this letter is a signal of where the business community thinks the issue is going. It would be tempting to say, “This is just a predictable list of very liberal leaders of very liberal companies.” But when you look closer, you recognize the big problem here is that this is a list in motion. It’s the motion that should be our main concern.

Part III

Not Gay Enough? — Why the Same Sex Marriage of Pete Buttigieg Isn’t Radical Enough for Some of the Moral Revolutionaries

Next, I want to turn to another article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times. This one an editorial by Frank Bruni entitled, “The Buttigiegs: A Traditional Wonder.” He writes, “Pete and Chasten Buttigieg celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Sunday. You know this if you’re among Pete’s roughly 1.1 million Twitter followers or Chasten’s 340,000, because they traded sweetly effusive missives, as they frequently do.”

I’m not going to read those communications back and forth between the Buttigiegs. The point here is that Frank Bruni, the author of the article, is openly gay and an ardent advocate of LGBTQ issues. And he’s writing in the article, not so much about the fact that he’s happy that the Buttigiegs are married and are celebrating their first anniversary, but because of what he sees as a redefinition of gay culture in the United States.

He writes about the fact that they are now, look at that headline, a “traditional wonder.” He writes, “But lately I’ve found myself wondering, what if Chasten were a 29-year-old straight woman instead of a 29-year-old gay man? What would that say about gender and double standards?” He makes the point that Chasten Buttigieg, one of the men in this same-sex marriage, stays home and largely takes care of domestic concerns, and furthermore, has taken Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s last name in formal context. And thus, here’s the point Frank Bruni is making. They look strangely traditional. And you might say the emphasis here would be upon strangely traditional. They appear to be in a relationship that tends to mirror what Frank Bruni calls, “a retro model of heterosexual marriage.”

Now, here what we need to observe is that within the LGBTQ community, there is a very interesting debate that has been going on for a long time. Just take the issue of same-sex marriage. If you are thinking about the G, or for that matter, the L, but particularly the G, gay men in LGBTQ, is same-sex marriage a good thing or a bad thing? What’s interesting to note is that even though the LGBTQ community was unified in demanding the legalization of same-sex marriage, gay men were hardly universal in thinking that gay marriage, same-sex marriage would be a good thing. Why? Because gay male culture, not only in the United States but elsewhere, has been largely defined as non-monogamous, very non-monogamous, very-nontraditional.

As we’re looking at the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that began the LGBTQ movement, or the Gay Rights Movement in America, we have to recognize that homosexual activists at the time were promising that the gay revolution would bring a total revolution in sexual morality; a total revolution in the structures of society. They aimed their ideological fire at the natural family of a mother and a father, and at traditional marriage as being overly restrictive and inherently repressive. But then, when you had the calls for same-sex marriage, you had a division in gay male culture between those who said, “We are the sexual revolutionaries,” and those who said, “No, we just want the very same things that heterosexual couples, husbands and wives, have.” Not just in legal rights, but we have to understand, in moral meaning as well.

Moral meaning was actually the major point made by former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in his lamentable majority opinion in the Obergefell decision of 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. But here’s where we need to note that Frank Bruni isn’t exactly sure that this is a good thing or a bad thing. As a gay activist, he’s very happy about the normalization of Pete Buttigieg and his same- sex husband. But at the same time, he sees it as something retro, the fact that Chasten Buttigieg actually follows the same kind of role model that would now be something of an embarrassment, especially amongst liberal Democrats, if in a heterosexual context.

A wife is now not believed to be fulfilled if she’s basically at home taking care of domestic issues, giving primary attention to the family. That doesn’t meet the new Democratic orthodoxy. And Bruni is asking the question, “If that doesn’t meet the new Democratic orthodoxy for heterosexuals, how exactly does it function that that new orthodoxy is now reflected in the first openly gay homosexual couple to be celebrated as having a real possibility of residing in the White House?”

The moral revolutionaries are themselves divided over so many of these questions, and it’s very revealing. But we also have to understand that when we describe the more conservative, you might say, or traditionalist-bent among gay men demanding marriage as a basically traditional institution and wanting the same kind of moral recognition, we have to note that even though the Supreme Court of the United States declared that it was granting that moral recognition, and even though that influence has been spread throughout our culture to some degree, the reality is that no court can invent that kind of respect and can grant that kind of moral meaning. That goes back to the fact that God made us in His image, and there is embedded within each of us a basic moral knowledge. And that moral knowledge does not naturally extend to same-sex marriage.

There are other issues of conflict. Bruni writes, “I look at Chasten who, with Pete, landed on the cover of Time magazine, and see at once how far gay people have come and how far women still have to go. I see what an imperfect patchwork progress is. To my previous thought experiments, add these: Would he and Pete get the same reception if they were men of color, or for that matter, didn’t look so much like they just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog? What if they were a lesbian couple?” Well, then, Bruni effectively says, “To each his own.” He ends his column, “Let people be true to themselves, no matter how daring, no matter how quaint.”

But here’s the point from a Christian worldview. Our ultimate meaning is never something that means we are true to ourselves. That might meet Shakespeare; it doesn’t meet a biblical worldview. Being true to ourselves is not an adequate guide. We have to be true to what God has revealed. We have to be true to what God has intended. We have to be true to a reality that is indicated by Eden, not by a fallen world.

Part IV

Gender Fluid Tomatoes? What Does ‘Normal’ Even Mean Anymore?

But finally, before I have to leave some of these strange issues that appeared in The New York Times yesterday, I want to go to an article by Livia Albeck-Ripka. The headline of the article: “A New Level of Sexual Fluidity in the Plant World.” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: the plant world. But we’re also told about a new species discovered in Australia, and what we are told is that in this new species, it turns out that the plant can change gender over and over again, and we are told that botanists have decided that this must be a botanical example of the fact that gender identity is fluid in nature, essentially fluid. The binary is flawed. It doesn’t exist. Except, we have to interject, of course it does. Otherwise, you do not have reproduction, and that is not only of human beings, but of all mammals. And this is even true of plants. After all, they’re still talking about male and female, even though the issue is here confused.

Researchers writing about this plant said, “When considering the scope of life on earth, the notion of constant sexual binary consisting of distinct and disconnected forms is fundamentally a fallacy.” Here again, you see how in strange and sometimes unpredictable ways, the authority of science, in this case of botany, the science of plants can be transformed into an engine of the moral revolution. According to this report, “Sexual expression appears to be unpredictable, at least as far as understood. Sexual expression is unpredictable in nature.”

And yet, this is a news story. Let’s just note for a moment, it’s a new story because this is supposed to be what is unexpected. And indeed, it is unexpected. But if it is generalized throughout nature, then it wouldn’t be unexpected, and it wouldn’t be news, and it didn’t have to be discovered in some exotic species heretofore not understood in Australia.

One of the scientists behind this commented, “What we’re seeing in this one species is fairly unusual but not unheard of.” He added, “Plants really make an excellent example for what’s possible and what’s normal.” There, you see the moral point: the word ‘normal’ thrown in here about the rejection of the gender binary, and the essential unpredictability of gender identity, and the argument that the binary’s over, and male and female are no longer fixed categories. The word here is ‘normal.’

I want to go back to his words: “Plants really make an excellent example for what’s possible and what’s normal.” I don’t want so much to change his sentence as I want to clarify by adding to it. He says, “Plants make an excellent example of what’s possible and what’s normal.” Add these words, “Normal for plants.” I can’t tell you if this kind of confusion among plants and vegetables is normal, but I am quite confident I can tell you this kind of confusion isn’t normal elsewhere. It’s not normal of skinks. It’s not normal of skunks. It’s not normal of spiders. It’s not normal of giraffes. It’s not normal of human beings. These days, when you see the word ‘normal,’ you need to ask some hard questions. One of those questions is, “Normal for whom?”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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