briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, September 18, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Merriam-Webster Adds Singular, Genderless ‘They’: If You Control Language, You Control the Direction of the Culture

Yesterday was something of a signal day, a landmark day when it comes to the English language, at least in its American usage. It’s a very important point as made clear in the headline in the Washington Post. The story is by Samantha Schmidt, “Merriam-Webster adds non-binary pronoun ‘they’ to dictionary.” Merriam Webster is the oldest publisher of dictionaries in the United States. It’s had wide influence. Of course, this is more than a simply symbolic act.

Merriam-Webster understands that. Yesterday in a corporate news release, they indicated that they had made the change along with several others adding new words or words new to the English usage in the United States to their current issue, especially in the online edition, later also to be reflected in print editions. As the Washington Post reported, “Merriam-Webster added a new definition of the word ‘they’ to its dictionary declaring the pronoun may be used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary.”

Now, here’s a very interesting question apart from the issue of the news concerning the dictionary, “How long will this current definition or this newly added definition last? How long will it be before ‘he’ and ‘she’ or ‘his’ and ‘hers’ simply disappear?” Right now, this is an addition to the customary meaning of the word “they” in the Miriam-Webster dictionary. The news is that they have added this new meaning or what we are told is a new meaning and usage of the word “they” to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary.

I’m going to make a prediction right now. The gender and sexual revolutionaries will not be satisfied with this until everyone, even those who are quite happy with ‘he’ and ‘she’ and ‘his’ and ‘hers,’ will have to be identified by ‘they’ and ‘theirs.’ Why? Because right now, the word “they” is still unstable in its usage, but that’s not likely to continue for long. The Washington Post actually not only reported but editorialized in this news story stating, “’They’ is a liberating pronoun for many non-binary individuals who identify as genders other than male or female. For many Americans,” the Post tells us, “the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun can be ungrammatical and confusing.”

Well, that would be for the vast majority of Americans, but actually, it would be true for the vast majority if not virtually all of the users of the English language going back to the 1300s. Merriam-Webster acknowledged as much in their release yesterday. As CNN reported, “Merriam Webster acknowledges that ‘they’ consistently has been used as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s.”

The news report goes on to say, “While adopting the pronoun as a non-binary description is vastly preferable for some, Merriam-Webster says there has also been some debate that it is ungrammatical.” Well, anyone who attended say grammar school or elementary school was taught exactly that, that the use of ‘they’ in a singular context is ungrammatical, but all of that is simply being swept away by the sexual and gender revolutionaries. It’s being done so in a most self-conscious manner. They know exactly what they are doing. There is an intentionality here.

If you can control the language, if you can change the language, you will control and you will change the direction of the culture. That’s exactly what’s going on here, but under the surface of this news story, there is actually even more here than is merely covered by the sexual and gender revolution. What we are looking at here is a vast change in how language and grammar are themselves being understood. For example, you used to be able to talk about English grammar and usage in those old categories of  – oh, I don’t know — right and wrong. You used to be able to have a quiz or an exam. Teachers use to mark papers and grade them on the basis of whether or not students rightly understood and applied the rules of grammar. How is that going to work? How is spelling even going to work? How are you going to have a spelling bee when all of this becomes absolutely indeterminate?

National Review reported on the Merriam-Webster statement, but also reported that there is a definition change that comes as Oxford University press editors, “consider updating the definition of ‘woman’ across various publications in response to a petition, that according to the new source Bookseller.”

As National Review tells us, “The petition calls on OUP,” that’s Oxford University Press, “to remove example sentences with the word ‘woman’ that contain offensive language or sexist stereotypes.” In case you had any doubt what’s being demanded here as National Review says, “The authors also call an OUP to ‘include examples, representative of minorities, for example, a transgender woman, a lesbian woman, etc.’” This isn’t just about the language. It’s not even mostly about the language. It is about the fact that the language reflects the morality being changed right before our eyes, not just changed, exchanged.

That point I made about the larger issue of grammar, even spelling comes down to the fact that an Oxford University Press spokesperson commented to Bookseller, “It’s worth reiterating that our dictionaries reflect rather than dictate how language is used, which means that we include terms that are often considered pejorative or have negative historical associations.” Well, that’s the only way you can have an exhaustive dictionary. Of course, there is no more exhaustive dictionary in the entire history of the English language than the dictionary of the English language by Oxford University Press.

You’re talking about thousands and thousands of words about thousands and thousands of words in the most authoritative dictionary ever published about the English language. That also gets to the point that the statement here implies that there is no right usage at all. There is no right spelling perhaps even at all of many words, because now you’re living in such an indeterminate time. People will re-spell words. We saw that in the proposed ethnic studies curriculum in California, where the educational authorities began spelling words in new ways in order to fit an ideological point.

How long will it be until there is the demand that Oxford University Press not only redefine the usage of ‘woman,’ but also refuse to include anything in the spelling of ‘woman’ that might include, for example, man, M-A-N, or men, M-E-N, in order to come up with M-Y-N, W-O-M-Y-N as a replacement spelling? That is now common in some academic circles. It is now being demanded by some feminist theorists. It will not stay a demand in those circles for long. Remember that that ethnic studies curriculum as proposed was for high school students in California.

I’ve mentioned previously on The Briefing that the use of ‘they’ in a singular context is not only awkward and ungrammatical. It can be dangerous. It is also undescriptive of the reality. Are you talking about one person or several persons? Is there one person who’s in danger or several people who are in danger? That’s not a remote question. The use of ‘they’re’ in a singular format up ends, well, even as Miriam-Webster indicated the usage of the English language going back to the late 14th century, the late 1300s.

This change in an American dictionary caught the attention of the media in London with The Guardian citing a media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality as saying that the Merriam-Webster decision fits into, “A larger normalization of non-binary identities.” The spokesperson went on to say, “Overall, you’re seeing workplaces, schools and hospitals recognize the current system of only offering male and female isn’t working for a lot of people.”

Well, as we have seen with claims that there are well even over 100 gender identities, ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they’ will not last even as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they’ for long. You’ve already seen schools saying that teachers and other students have to deal with invented pronouns such as ‘ze’ and ‘zer.’ As I said, yesterday’s a landmark day because this is a far larger story than many people will recognize because this particular change in the language is not a change towards greater specificity but lesser, not more clarity but more confusion. That’s not an accidental byproduct. That is actually— here’s the big worldview point — that is actually the purpose.

Part II

Once Again, Christianity Sidelined by the Sexual Revolution: Duke University Student Government Rejects Young Life as Chartered Group

But as you already know, much of the impetus for that change came from America’s academic elite and what you see now happening in the average college and university culture across America. That’s why we’re going to turn to several stories about college and university campuses in the United States. The next headline comes from Duke University in North Carolina. The headline came out telling us that the university’s student government has denied the Christian ministry Young Life official status as a student group on campus.

As Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service tells us, “The decision by the Duke student government Senate on Wednesday,” that’d be Wednesday of last week, “comes amid ongoing clashes nationwide between religious student groups and colleges and universities that have added more robust non-discrimination policies.”

Kaitlyn Choi reporting for The Chronicle, that’s an independent Duke student newspaper, tells us, “The Duke student government senate unanimously declined to recognize Young Life as an official Duke student group at its Wednesday meeting. Young Life,” explains the Chronicle, “is a national Christian organization that has branches serving middle and high school students in Durham and Chapel Hill. The group had requested official recognition to recruit and support a greater number of students as it already has a following on campus.” That means, the Duke campus. The story continues, “but Young Life was rebuffed over concerns about the national organization’s policies concerning LGBTQ+ leaders.”

The Chronicle tells us that at last week’s Duke student government meeting, senators noted the fact that “the national organizations rule barring LGBTQ+ individuals from leadership positions violates the student organization finance committee’s guideline that every Duke student group include a non-discrimination statement in its constitution.”

What exactly is so offensive in the Young Life manual? Well, The Chronicle reports indicating that Young Life’s policy states, “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ.”

“We do,” says the policy, “however believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.” We have seen the same kind of challenge over and over again. This is one of the hottest fronts in that intersection and collision between religious liberty and the newly declared sexual liberty. Sexual Liberty is trumping and defeating religious liberty all over the place, especially on academic campuses. Duke is now the latest example, but the reasoning that was operate at Duke deserves a closer look because it is even more threatening. I will go on to say even more cowardly.

This is a very cowardly decision. Now, that’s made clear by the fact that at Duke right now as recognized student groups, there are, for example, Islamic student groups and Roman Catholic student groups. Let’s just take those two examples. Let’s also point out that Islamic theology is extremely clear about rules concerning sexuality, and the Roman Catholic church’s official teaching defines marriage as and only as the union of a man and a woman. It also declares homosexuality to be objectively disordered behavior.

When I say that this decision is cowardly, it was very easy for the young senators of the Duke student government to turn down Young Life and to do so unanimously declaring that it did so because of the policies of Duke concerning student organizations and the necessity of non-discrimination as it is described here. You’ll notice that the very same student government fails to acknowledge that if they are and were consistent, they would have to disaffiliate organizations that are affiliated with the Roman Catholic church, because after all, you do not have to be very good with Google — and trust me, the students at Duke are very good searching the internet — to find out what the Roman Catholic church officially teaches.

Notice also that the decision to deny such official status to Young Life is reported as being unanimous. It also turns out that The Chronicle tells us that no one actually appears even to spoken up for the recognition of the group in the meeting. As The Chronicle reports, “No positive speech on the topic was given.”

But behind this stands the reality that the story of Duke represents the lamentable account of how Christian churches and denominations established many if not most of the elite academic institutions in the United States only to lose them first to liberalism and then to absolute secularism.

The story of Duke follows the familiar if very tragic pattern. It was established as Trinity College in order to serve Methodist churches and Methodist young people teaching them in historic Christianity. By 1859, that identity was well established, but by the late 19th century, the Christian churches that had established Duke were unable to sustain it financially, which meant that following the example of other institutions, Duke’s board of trustees became effectively self- perpetuating. The trustees gained the total governance of the institution. The trustees deferred to the faculty, the identity of the institution.

The institution drifted far away from the historic beliefs of the churches that had founded it. By the time you get to even the last half of the 20th century, an institution like Duke looked at its own religious founding as something of an embarrassment it wanted to get over rather than a living tradition it wanted to claim.

On Duke’s website, the reference to its religious identity is defined at the end only as historic and symbolic ties to the Methodist church. In other words, “Yes, we can’t deny those ties are back there. That’s a part of our history, but don’t worry current students and don’t worry current faculty and don’t worry academic elite, there’s nothing remotely Methodist except historic and symbolic ties at Duke University.”

The fact that the institution is now known as Duke University rather than Trinity College has everything to do with another of the stories of American higher education, especially elite higher education. That is the infusion of vast benevolence in this case from James B. Duke and his family that offered an endowment that changed the character of Duke University and also facilitated its eventual total separation from the churches that had given the institution its founding.

Part III

California’s Radical Quest to Normalize Abortion: Providing Abortion Pills on University Campuses Is About ‘Destigmatizing’ Abortion

Next, we’ll shift to North Carolina to California. Days ago, we discussed on The Briefing the fact that the California legislature was poised to adopt legislation that would require the state’s public colleges and universities to offer free and campus-available medical abortions, that is the abortion pill to enrolled students. We also saw the extremism on behalf of abortion rights that this legislation then proposed but now adopted indicated, because you are looking at the fact that most of these students had extremely easy access to abortion and to abortion pills already just off campus.

You also saw that the campus clinics could let students know exactly where they could get those pills. You also have the fact that in California, those who are unable to pay for an abortion will have the state pay for it, but the California legislature has now adopted that legislation. Governor Gavin Newsom has indicated that he will, of course, sign it.

I want to point to a deeper issue here that is very apparent in a New York times article by Pam Belluck. The article was published and written before the legislation was adopted.

As the article tells us, “The bill would apply to 34 campuses throughout the state with nearly 750,000 enrolled students.” But by the time you get to the end of the article, it is clear that something else is going on here. This is an even bigger story that ought to catch our attention. One word or a form of one word appears no less than three times in three different contexts in this one article. The word is ‘stigma.’

The first usage comes in the third column of the print edition Marj Plumb identified as campaign director of JustCARE said, “The barriers are about economics and schedules and frankly also about stigma.” She continued, “It’s the idea that this procedure which really is simple and really is safe, that there is something wrong that they had to go somewhere else to get this medicine.”

Now, let’s just flip that for a moment. Here, you have an advocate for abortion, an extreme advocate for abortion, saying that the current policy before the legislation indicated that there just might be something wrong in some way or even you might say in the state of California that at least some California citizens believe that there just might be something remotely morally wrong with abortion, and that’s one of the reasons why, indeed, it’s the first reason why we are told this legislation was necessary.

Again, this is not even about access to abortion. This is about normalizing abortion. It’s about removing and reducing the stigma. It shows up in a second place in the fourth column where Dr. Ariel Leifer, medical director of the university’s family medicine center at University Villag, this is the University of Illinois Chicago, cited as an example, said, “We’re their regular doctor and they don’t have to walk through protesters. There’s no stigma.”

The doctor went on to say, “It works very well. They like doing it in the comfort of their own home. The pain is manageable. It’s private.” Again, you’ll notice it is this doctor who raised the word ‘stigma.’ One of the purposes of this legislation is, at least as indicated in this article for a second time, to remove the stigma.

But then the word appears in a third time this and the final paragraph in which a young woman named Zoe Murray is identified as an activist again on behalf of the legislation. She’s now 23, a recent graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. We are told that she had sought a medication abortion from that university student health center when she was a sophomore but had to go off campus of all things.

She is cited at the conclusion of the article this way, “Ms. Murray said she believes the bill is, ‘going to really change and begin to de-stigmatize abortion so we can start to talk about our experiences openly with abortion and with pregnancy on campus.'” Again, it’s stigma, it’s stigmatized, that is cited here the activists. This article in the New York Times doesn’t purport to be about that moral aspect at all, but that’s really the point because whether it purports to be you’re not in this article in three different usages from three different persons in three different contexts, the moral issue is really made clear.

This legislation is not even just about abortion access as horrifying as that would be. It’s about doing everything possible to normalize abortion. Again, Christians look at that and say, “You may do everything you try. You may adopt any legislation you can invent, but you can’t remove the stigma from abortion. That’s because abortion as an act, the destruction of an unborn human being in the womb, will now and will forevermore bear that stigma.” That is something no army of activists can change, and thus their rage.

Part IV

The Passing of an Influential Age in the American Media: A Look at the Lives of Media Giants Cokie Roberts and Sander Vanocur

We’ll be looking at a similarly troubling development in the education of modern doctors, but now I want to turn very interesting headline news concerning the media itself. This refers to the death of two of the most significant journalists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They represent really two different generations. The first was Cokie Roberts of National Public Radio and ABC News, whose death was announced yesterday at age 75.

The point to be made about Cokie Roberts, lamented by so many at NPR remembered as one of the founding mothers of National Public Radio as she was so often called, the point to be made about Cokie Roberts is that she represents an age of the journalist in Washington that is now long gone. You can lament it or you can celebrate it, but the type is now largely disappearing from the terrain. What’s the type? It is the unquestioned Washington insider. You can’t come up with an insider more inside than the late Cokie Roberts. Cokie Roberts’ father was Hale Boggs, a member of Congress from Louisiana who eventually rose to be the majority leader for the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

He died in 1972 disappearing in Alaska as he and others were on a small plane campaigning for a congressional race there. The late congressman and his plane were never found. His widow, Lindy Boggs then took his seat in Congress and held it for the next 17 years. Lindy Boggs, Mrs. Boggs, as a member of Congress, also developed a very important political legacy, but Cokie Roberts, one of several children of Hale and Lindy Boggs, grew up in an age in Washington that has since disappeared. It was the age of congressional clubbiness. It was when just about everybody knew just about everybody else, and the rest of the country knew very little about any of them.

Cokie Roberts as she became known was born December 27, 1943, in New Orleans. Her christening name as a Roman Catholic was Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs. She got her name Cokie because her big brother Tommy couldn’t say Corinne. It came out Cokie, and she was Cokie from then on, including to NPR and to ABC News.

Millions of Americans knew her as the co-host with Sam Donaldson of ABC’s This Week program. She was an insider in just about every way imaginable. She and her husband, Steve Roberts, were two of the most influential journalists in Washington, D.C. Even up until recently, she continued to do news reporting and analysis for National Public Radio. She had a voice made for radio, and she was by any definition, one of the most professional journalists of her generation. She was also predictably, politically liberal. That showed over time as well.

Cokie Roberts represented that now-disappearing species of journalists, the journalist who was able to get just about any political authority on the phone and to gain from them the material for a news story and to be able to speak from that a news analysis on the basis of having had a personal conversation with the principles in the story.

That’s largely disappeared, but so also has the fact that when Cokie Roberts dominated on National Public Radio and in which she co-hosted in ABC News and fulfilled the role of a major political columnist and analyst, you had Cokie Roberts who was also representing those privileged streams of information, very few privileged streams of information that flowed to the American people, for most of the second half of the 20th century, three major television networks and very few other authoritative news sources, especially when it came to television and radio broadcasting.

Those who follow American politics closely and who also follow the media closely will have at times found reason to criticize Cokie Roberts, but the reality is we will also miss her.

The other major obituary from the media that appeared in the last couple of days was Sander Vanocur. As the New York Times says, “A veteran newsman who became familiar to American viewers as a prominent white house correspondent during the Kennedy administration and as a tough questionnaire in presidential debates.” We’re told that he died Monday night at age 91.

Sander Vanocur will be known to far fewer Americans hearing my voice today than would have been true for Cokie Roberts. The reality is, however, that both of them are known probably only to those who watch politics in the media closely, but if you were to go back a generation, even in the case of Sander Vanocur, two or three generations, you’ll be looking at towering journalists who had enormous power. Sander Vanocur was one of those journalists. He was the last surviving of the media figures who participated in the very famous Kennedy-Nixon debates during the 1960 presidential campaign. Just think of this: One of the news journalists who participated in that debate died just this past Monday night.

Vanocur clashed with some very powerful people, including more than one president of the United States. Most importantly, he clashed with President Richard Nixon. The other interesting issue from a worldview analysis is the fact that even at the time, Sander Vanocur was known to have privileged access to one particular family, the Kennedy family, President John F. Kennedy, attorney general and later Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the entire Kennedy family. Even then, it didn’t quite smell right to many of his journalistic colleagues. He was, for example, granted the first televised interview with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Just recently on The Briefing, we talked about the media and the myth of absolute objectivity in reporting. Here we have examples of that even as we see and as we recognize the passing of a massively influential age in the American media.

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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