briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, August 9, 2019

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

It’s Friday, August 9, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Transgender Revolution’s Radical Redefinition of Self and Safety: Where Did it Come From?

When massive change is taking place in a society, the vocabulary changes with it. Sometimes new words emerge. Oftentimes old words are redefined. They’re redeployed, sometimes contorted beyond their meaning, sometimes broadened beyond anything a previous generation could have imagined.

That’s what’s happening with the word “safe” right now, and it’s made very clear in an article that ran at USA Today. Kristin Lam is the reporter. The headline: “More than 7,000 Americans have gender X IDs, a victory for transgender rights. Is that a safety risk too?” That’s the headline, ending with that question, “Is it a safety risk too?” A safety risk? What might that mean?

Well, if you go back to the major use of the word “safe” or “safety” in generations pass, it has had to do with physical safety, with health and wellbeing. It has to do with avoiding disease or avoiding injury. Safety as applied to others might even be translated into something like your local city’s department of public safety, which would certainly include most importantly, the police department, and the police department is for the most part concerned about keeping a society safe from criminal activity and law breaking.

But the word “safe” now has been completely transformed. If you look at modern uses in the media and especially in context such as higher education, and for that matter, education at every level especially in the public schools, what you discover is that “safe” now means something very, very different. “Safe” now very often has a meaning related to emotional safety or psychological safety. The kind of emotional wellbeing that is now considered a human right.

When you look at the word “safe” in this sense, you are looking at the fact that we are only able to use this kind of language and only have this kind of concern in very recent times, very exceedingly modern times, and this has to do with those modern times, even with modernity. The modern age came with a newly transformed notion of the self. The self is now largely an experiment. It is an individual project.

It took a long time for this radical notion of the self to emerge, but perhaps the individual in North America who defined it most appropriately was Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher who in the late 1980s published a book entitled Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. That word “identity” is central. The idea here is that the self, the individual, now bears a responsibility to discover within and to construct without an identity.

And then you have the rise of modern psychology and psychiatry. You can’t have the modern notion of the individual and of the self without the rise of modern psychiatry and psychology and the looming influence of figures such as Sigmund Freud. But Freud’s is simply the most important of the names on this list that contributed to the modern idea of the self as project, and it has so infected our society that most people simply take it as a norm. They simply take it as a given. The reality is that our identity is our concern. It is our right to declare. It is our own responsibility as a personal project.

Taylor wrote that book about the making of modern identity in the late 80s. By 1992, he had written another book that really spoke to the spirit of our age. The title of that book, The Ethics of Authenticity. The word “authenticity” there is just as important as the word “identity” in his earlier book. What is he speaking of when he cites the ethics of authenticity? He is speaking about the fact that the one great moral impulse of so many in the modern age is to be authentic.

This means authentic as compared to what? As defined by what? It’s really defined by whom? It is the individual claiming a mandate of authenticity in this great project of constructing the self. As Christians, think about this in worldview analysis, we have to understand that this emergence of a modern notion of the self, it’s incredibly radical. And furthermore, even though there are aspects of this kind of movement that point to an important critique of what came before, in reality, the modern notion of the self is fundamentally at odds with the biblical notion of the self.

The Bible’s concept of the self is that it is primarily a given. We did not choose to be born. We did not choose to whom we were born. Our identity is largely stamped by the fact that we were born to whom we were born. We were born male or female. We were born in this year, not some other era. There is a givenness even to where we are born and the network of relationships that define us from the very beginning of our lives.

You have to understand that many modern people actually believe that the great project of authenticity is to outgrow, perhaps even to overthrow all that givenness and instead, given the modern mandate of being an authentic self, declare as if we can give birth to ourselves and bring ourselves into being who we really are, claiming authenticity as we tell people our identity. And of course, this modern concept also implies, indeed it demands, that the society around us come to terms with whatever we say ourself is, whatever we declare our identity to be.

Just note that you cannot have the LGBTQ movement without this. The LGBTQ movement is built upon this revolutionary and radical notion of the self. You can’t have the modern movement that is so centered in the self without this major development. And as we shall see, this modern notion of the self demands that the self be safe, and thus we have this new meaning of safe or safety.

I mentioned that article by Kristin Lam at USA Today. Again, the headline was, “More than 7,000 Americans have gender X IDs, a victory for transgender rights.” But the headline then asked the question, “Is it a safety risk too?” What in the world is that headline asking? What kind of safety risk is here being implied? My guess is, it’s not what most Americans are going to think.

Lam writes, “Three years ago, no one in the United States was legally recognized as neither male or female. Today, tens of thousands,” she says, “can point to a gender neutral marker on state driver’s licenses and identification cards according to records obtained by USA Today.” She continues, “With two more states announcing plans last week to offer a gender X or non-binary marker, advocates say momentum for the option can help validate gender identity, but that the designation also raises safety concerns.” There’s that word “safety” again.

The article goes on to tabulate that there have been at least 7,251 Americans who have now received a gender X ID or driver’s license, that in nine states plus Washington D.C. We are told also that Indiana is the only state that currently issues gender X IDs that did not respond to the records request, which means there are actually more than 7,251. The article then cites an individual known as Dana Zzyym. It’s Z-Z-Y-Y-M, as the last name, and this individual is identified as “a non-binary and intersex activist who has sued the State Department for a gender neutral transport.”

“I think the non-binary population will surprise a lot of people in this country.” The states now offering the gender X ID include Arkansas, Oregon, Minnesota, Maine, Utah, Colorado, California, Indiana, Nevada, and Vermont. We are told that policies in Maryland, New Hampshire and Hawaii will go into effect in coming months.

Just a few days ago, we saw what is happening to our language when it comes to pronouns given the LGBTQ demands. It shows up in this story as well, indicating how difficult it is to understand even the kind of press report you would read in USA Today these days. “Mari Wroblewski, 22, has the opportunity to self-certify their gender marker in California, a state where the Department of Motor Vehicles has issued 2,623 driver’s licenses and IDs since January.” That means the non-binary driver’s licenses and IDs.

But remember we’re talking about a single individual here, even though USA Today says that the individual has the opportunity “to self-certify their gender marker in California.” But the article turns to the issue of being safe when the reporter tells us, “The feeling of excitement for the marker gave way to concern,” Wroblewski told USA Today, “as they,” there’s “they” again, “can out transgender non-binary people or mark them as ‘other’ in today’s political climate.”

“Wroblewski,” we are told, “considered all the people who examine IDs; from TSA agents, bouncers to bank workers, and asked themselves,” again themselves, “Do I want to feel validated in my gender, or do I want to feel safe?”

What are we to do with that sentence? “Do I want to feel validated in my gender, or do I want to feel safe?” What could “safe” mean here? Wroblewski went on to say, “We give our ID to so many people that have so much power over our lives. They have the power to decide if we can get a loan or if we can continue to drive and so many other things. These people don’t always outwardly express their bigotry toward people who are trans, intersex, and non-binary,” Wroblewski said, “but they certainly can have views that are homophobic, transphobic, and that are just essentially dangerous toward us.”

Wait just a minute. What does “dangerous” mean? Dangerous from a bank officer? Dangerous from a TSA agent? “Dangerous”—what does it mean? It means dangerous to this modern, we should also note very fragile, sense of the developing self in such a way that to say that someone might have to explain something means that they are in a dangerous situation. To have a situation in which persons might not be fully understood as they demand to be understood is now a situation defined as unsafe.

This is not only unworkable, it is irrational. But nonetheless it is now central to our society. You go on the average college or university campus, this is the major concern about safety. And it’s also a mandate, a mandate that professors, administrators, and other students have to bend to this idea of safety, lest they be accused of creating an unsafe space or acting in an unsafe manner. But it’s not just higher education, although it is endemic there. It’s all across the institutions of our society.

And by the way, the TSA and other law enforcement agencies are on the front lines of facing the impossibility and irrationality of coming fully to terms with the entire LGBTQ movement now expanding in its demands, but particularly when it comes to those who identify as transgender or non-binary. As we saw recently, when you’re looking at the TSA, you’re looking at official policies that state that since some searches can be intrusive, women have to be examined or investigated by a female agent and men by a male agent.

To think about the contemporary usage of the word “safe,” that policy was put in place in order to assure the safety of the vast majority of Americans. But this means that some, who identify as non-binary, say that it is unsafe. It is dangerous to demand that they identify as either male or female or that they allow others to make some assumption about whether or not they are male or female when it comes to such activities by the TSA. Kristin Lam, the reporter tells us that, “Some worry that authorities who check IDs may not understand what a gender X marker means,” and that could possibly lead “to invasive questions about their sex and body or harassment.”

Well, as we have seen documented in the very demands of the transgender revolutionaries, or some who would call themselves the non-binary revolutionaries, one of the issues central to their self-definition is that each individual has the full right to come up with whatever definition he or she, they, according to the modern pronouns, may demand in order to understand exactly how they define themselves in such a non-binary way, which is to say, you can’t possibly expect law enforcement officers, TSA agents, or any other human being to know exactly what gender X means in an ID because the very activist who demand that we know exactly what is meant by a gender X ID are the ones who tell us that gender X can mean anything, or at least presumably anything other than male or female.

Jules Baldino, identified as microgrants coordinator at Trans Lifeline said to USA Today, “I think there will be this time where there’s a lot of people who might interact with these IDs who don’t know what that is. That could potentially put people’s safety in question.” Again, notice what we’re really talking about here when the word “safety” is invoked.

Part II

Human Identity as Personal Project: The Crushing Burden of The Modern Self

But let’s remember another dimension of safety. Let’s just go back to May of this year. Another headline also in USA Today, the story originated through the Associated Press. The headline is this: “Nurse mistakes pregnant transgender man as obese. Then, the man births a stillborn baby.” Marilynn Marchione, who’s the reporter tells us, “When the man arrived at the hospital with severe abdominal pains, a nurse didn’t consider it an emergency, noting that he was obese and had stopped taking blood pressure medicines. In reality, he was pregnant, a transgender man in labor that was about to end in a stillbirth.”

Again, just consider we’re supposed to understand what this means and given the confusions of the day, we actually oddly do know what it means. Here we are told that an individual who is clearly female, that is having a womb and having the condition of being pregnant, arrives at a hospital identified as a man, presenting as a man, looking like a man. The nurse did not consider the patient a woman and because of that did not consider that this man might be pregnant. But the man, as USA Today, the Associated Press and others insist he should be understood to be, the man was not only pregnant, the man was in labor.

The Advocate, which is something like the Time magazine of the LGBTQ movement, in an article by Trudy Ring said, “The case of a transgender man whose pregnancy was recognized too belatedly, resulting in a stillbirth, highlights the need for additional training for health care workers on how to treat trans patients.” And the article then cites the source of a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine. One of the doctors in that study said, “The point is not what’s happened to this particular individual, but this is an example of what happens to transgender people interacting with the healthcare system.”

Now again, the article from The Advocate, “The 32-year-old man, whose name and location were not revealed, was admitted to the hospital for treatment of severe abdominal pains.” But then the article tells us that the nurse did not consider that he might be pregnant. “Not i9 nitially considering the possibility of pregnancy because his medical records classified him as male and he had a masculine appearance.” We are told that at some point he did tell the nurse he was transgender. But again, his medical records—“his” is what I’m citing here from the article—his medical records classified him as male\

But when you’re considering how the world’s been turned upside down, that New England Journal of Medicine article is cited, and we are told that a patient identified as female who had symptoms similar to the man’s “would almost surely have been triaged and evaluated more urgently for pregnancy-related problems.” One of the doctors said, “It’s a very upsetting incident. It’s a tragic outcome.” Well, of course it was a tragic outcome. We’re talking about a baby who was stillborn. At least some of the articles indicate the baby might have survived had anyone known that there was a baby, that pregnancy had existed, that that could have been the problem, that the individual was in labor.

But now I want to go back to that old meaning of “safe,” the primary meaning, referring to physical safety or even medical or health safety. Now we come to understand that the LGBTQ movement has sewn such confusion that you do have situations like the one reported in these articles and furthermore, we can understand that this is likely to expand of course, to increase as person after person is misidentified.

But let’s just state the obvious. Christians have to speak sanity even if no one else does. It’s because our understanding of humanity and of identity begins with God, begins with a Creator who made us for his glory, who determined not only where and when we would be born, but that we would exist, putting us on this earth and giving us an identity as his gift. Of course, there is some extent to which every single individual develops a self and develops personality, but that is fundamentally different from understanding that we determine our own identity.

And Christians have to maintain sanity understanding that if you have a womb and if you are pregnant, then you are female. You are a woman. But the ultimate extent of this new project of the self and this new ethic of authenticity is that the obvious implication of all of these articles, whether it’s The Advocate or The New England Journal of Medicine or USA Today, is that the healthcare system is wrong for operating under the presumption that someone who is pregnant is a female and the presumption that someone who is classified as a man is not pregnant.

But then before leaving this aspect of the revolution around us, I want to go to an article that ran just in recent days at NBC News. The reporter: Tatyana Bellamy-Walker. The headline, “For non-binary people, struggle for recognition extends to romantic relationships.” This article is a little bit more detailed than I’m ever going to discuss on The Briefing, but the importance is that the article appear at NBC News. It’s supposed to make sense, and, furthermore, we’re supposed to draw a moral from this kind of report.

The article begins, “Rilen Taylor matched with someone on a dating site, but the experience went sour when the match insisted Taylor identify as only one gender, either as a man or a woman. ‘If we were to date, I needed to be a girl,’ recalled Taylor, who identifies as both male and female and responds to male pronouns. ‘I think he misunderstood and thought I was a tomboy.’”

We are then told, “This is just one of many uncomfortable experiences that Taylor, a freckle-faced, off-Broadway actor in New York has faced as a non-binary person trying to date in the binary world.”

NBC News then tells us, “As more people, like Taylor, are coming out as neither exclusively male nor female, they are fighting for recognition not just legally, but also socially, and research shows this can be especially challenging in the dating world.” Who would have thought that? Who would have thought that being non-binary would be a complication when it comes to romance and the dating world? The article tells us that Taylor, “Said most people who contacted him on dating platforms assumed he was a cisgender, non-transgender woman, even though he described himself as ‘gender fluid’ on his dating profile.”

Again, the pronouns, “his,” “he.” But then we are told that it was assumed, based upon the description that he was a cisgender, that is non-transgender woman, even though he used the designation, gender fluid. In the most amazing part of the article, I read this: “In fact, a study published last month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found more than 87% of people would not consider dating a transgender person at all.” Well again, who could possibly have thought otherwise?

87% of people saying that they wouldn’t consider dating a transgender person is probably an undercount because a significant number of people, as we see in so many of these social surveys, either don’t answer truthfully or answer in a way they think is going to be socially approved. The reality is that the very next section of the article is about a battle for recognition, which is to say, we’re being told that the vast majority of Americans are wrong because they wouldn’t consider dating a transgender person. This is another obstacle, we are told, that the non-binary community has to overcome. The implication of the article is that morally, this should be overcome.

Another sentence, “Researchers at Towson University’s Gender and Sexuality Lab interviewed nearly 400 non-binary people, who were either currently in a romantic relationship or had been in one within the past five years. All of the respondents reported being subjected to experiences within their relationship that attempted to invalidate their gender identity, with some reporting that they were only viewed as their sex assigned at birth, as opposed to the gender with which they identify by their romantic partner.”

Oddly enough, what we’re being told here is that even the people who for some reason in some way demonstrated an openness to have a romantic relationship with a transgender person, actually can only consider that supposedly non-binary person as having the identity of the biological sex with which they were born. So, bringing this full circle, one of the things we need to note is that this modern meaning of safety won’t work. We should be very sensitive in every appropriate way to every single human being and respect them as being a genuine human being made in the image of God. To every image bearer, we owe respect.

But we do not owe an understanding that every single individual has a right to define who he or she is and demand that the world has to come to terms with it. And the world, as we just saw in that NBC report, is supposedly even the world of the universe of persons with whom there might be some kind of eventual romantic entanglement. This doesn’t work in dating obviously. It doesn’t work in human reproduction obviously. It doesn’t work in an emergency room clearly.

And it also comes back to that failed project of the self. If we believe that we have the right, the power, and for that matter the personal responsibility to create ourselves, well, then we’re setting ourselves up for enormous disappointment. That’s a burden no human being should actually have to bear, but it’s one of the burdens that our modern society insists that is incumbent upon every single one of us.

Part III

Celebrities: America’s New Moral Authorities

But finally we end with yet another reminder of why Hollywood has such an outsize influence in our cultural equation even on this kind of issue. Hollywood tells us over and over again through its dramatic presentations, through its storylines, it tells us that there is heroism in this modern project of the self, and, of course, heroism in every form of it, including everything related to the LGBTQ revolution.

But Jessica Grose writing an article entitled, “Actors as Activists, Why?” for the New York Times, raises the question as to why celebrities in America, especially entertainment figures have such an outsized influence. Interestingly, we are told that one of the reasons that celebrities have this authority is that other authorities in the society receded in influence, in particular political leaders and government leaders. But you could add to that other authorities, including those who have the authority of the church, the authority of Christianity. In a secularizing age, there’s a displacement of that authority. Even doctors do not have the authority they had at mid-century as you look at the 20th century.

But scientists and others, having lost this kind of authority, now see it ceded to celebrities who, by the way, play politicians and play the roles of doctors and scientists and play the roles of politicians. But for some reason a lot of Americans either do or seem to put more confidence in what celebrities and entertainers think about big issues of life.

The New York Times article also tells us that celebrities are deciding to drive this movement by picking their own clauses, their own arenas of activism in order to build their own celebrity brand. But some of these brands are too big for any one issue or even for a seeming universe of issues. Oprah Winfrey would be one of these. The article tells us that at one point, “Oprah was probably more credible to the parents of America than the entire medical institution.”

Interestingly, this article also tells us that there was a limit on the political activism of actors and entertainers back when Hollywood was governed by so-called morality clauses in the actors’ contracts. The cultural turning point, we are told, was the Vietnam war when so many Hollywood celebrities, actors and actresses decided to get out front in the anti-war activism. Eventually, the morals clauses simply disappeared from the contracts. But as we know, it wasn’t just activism that came in the wake of that move. The very idea of a morals clause seems to belong to an age far away and long ago.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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