briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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

It’s Wednesday, February 12, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Moment of Intellectual Honesty in Washington: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Speaks Honestly about the Equal Rights Amendment

Yesterday, voters in New Hampshire went to the polls in the nation’s first presidential primary of the 2020 cycle, most importantly, of course on the Democratic side, and even as the polls closed last night, I’m going to wait until tomorrow morning to look to an analysis, especially a worldview analysis of the significance of that vote. I want to look at some of the data from voting patterns that are not yet available. So, we’ll be turning to that story—and it is undeniably a big story—tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we need to look at some other issues that have received the lesser attention in the international and national press.

For one thing, Vox reports that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court on Monday at a forum at Georgetown University’s Law School went on to say that in her view, the ERA has not actually just been ratified by the Virginia legislature. In this case, she’s talking about the fact that there have been headlines we talked about on The Briefing just a matter of a couple of weeks ago, that the state of Virginia had become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and thus those who are in the Democratic leadership of that state were claiming that the ERA would now become an amendment to the United States Constitution. But as we said, then there are huge constitutional questions at stake about the Equal Rights Amendment especially when talking about the year 2020.

In 1977, the United States Congress put a deadline of 1982 for the requisite number of states to ratify the ERA for it to become part of the Constitution. During that time, even as there’ve been three states since 1977 to move forward in ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, there were also five states that had ratified the ERA that sought to reverse their ratification. Now, to her credit, Justice Ginsburg, who is well-known as a liberal and feminist, Justice Ginsburg went on to say, “I would like to see a new beginning for the ratification of the ERA.” In other words, she went on to say, “There’s too much controversy about latecomers plus a number of states have withdrawn their ratification. So if you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that have said, ‘We had changed our minds?’”

Well, that’s a moment of intellectual honesty and when you find it anywhere you need to make note of it. In this case, one of the most consistently liberal justices of the Supreme Court has openly stated to a law school audience that she does not believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is right now a part of the Constitution, that it has not actually been ratified and thus she calls for a restart of the entire process.

But there’s a backstory here that’s really important. When the headlines first emerged a couple of weeks ago about the ERA, we discussed its role in American history, how it had emerged as a part of second wave feminism and how it was intended at the time to establish an absolute foundation, not only for feminist claims about women’s equality, but also for access to abortion. That was undeniably a part of the impetus behind the ERA. The language proposed for the amendment of the Constitution was simply that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Now, you’ll notice carefully that the word “abortion” does not appear there nor do many other issues appear there including gender specific bathrooms or any number of other issues. Also consider the fact that if you were to go back to the 1970s and you were to discuss this, there would have been no anticipation of anything like the LGBTQ revolution and in particular the T, transgender, that was simply not on the screen. You have to ask the question now, what would the Equal Rights Amendment mean if it even were to be ratified in a world in which we have increased embrace of confusion deliberately driven through the entire society on the basis of whether or not gender is even real, whether it’s just a social construct or whether it is a biological reality that is fixed at birth?

Now, clearly we are living through a transgender revolution at the moment, but what’s really interesting is that given the fact that Justice Ginsburg made this statement that she made on Monday, it is a signal that it is at least extremely unlikely now that the United States Supreme Court will take up the case of the ERA and actually rule that the ERA was ratified by Virginia as the 38 state as Virginia is claiming. As Vox reports, “Ginsburg’s comments are likely to be the death knell for the ERA, without Ginsburg’s vote, it’s tough to imagine that five members of the Supreme Court would agree the ERA was properly ratified.”

But then that raises another interesting question. Is it actually likely that the United States Congress will start another ERA ratification process again? Well, if you’re looking at the Congress in February of 2020, the answer to that is in the house, yes, in the Senate, no. That reminds us once again that elections have consequences. If there is a change in the party control of the Senate, if it shifts from Republican to Democratic, well, it could well be that there would be this congressional impetus, but at the same time it is very important to recognize that there’s reason to believe that there is no more likelihood of getting 38 states to ratify the ERA in 2020 than there was back during the 1970s.

The reason for that is that by the time you get to the ERA, it has become increasingly clear that there is a great worldview divide in the United States. It becomes clear that that is a deep, ideological, worldview, philosophical divide that includes the very question of gender, the basic relationships of men and women. It is clear that this is not geographically evenly distributed dispositions across the United States. Once again, there would be a huge difference between the states of Massachusetts and Mississippi, just to consider two. This news story is actually a bigger story in worldview significance than most seem to recognize and it is at least at this point a very important statement of honesty from a justice of the United States Supreme Court who very clearly would support the Equal Rights Amendment.

She is a staunch defender of feminism and of abortion rights. She made her national reputation before she was named to the court as a feminist attorney arguing for the equality of women as it was then styled back during the 1970s. But as I began, intellectual honesty is a rare commodity these days just about anywhere. So when we do see it, we ought to recognize it for what it is.

Part II

No More Bibles in Hotel Rooms? What Trends in the Hotel Business Tell Us About Today’s America

Next, another interesting story emerged from Washington, D.C. In this case, it’s an article by Hannah Samson that was published in the Washington Post. The headline is this: “Hotel Bibles Are Still a Thing. But for Some Brands They’re on Their Way Out.” Now, in what sense are hotel bibles even a headline news story? Well, the headline news is the fact that a study of the hotel industry has indicated that fewer hotel rooms in the United States in the present have Bibles accessible in the rooms than in the past, and furthermore, the article is clearly looking to the future indicating that it is likely that in the future there will be an even smaller percentage of total hotel rooms in the United States that have the Bible. Now, there’s some very interesting issues in the background of this.

How in the world did it come to pass that there was the practice of Bibles being in American hotel rooms? If you travel around the world, you’ll understand that, with the exception of one brand, that is unusual. As the Washington Post rightly reports, it goes back to the fact that there were two businessmen who had to share a double room at the Central Hotel in Wisconsin in 1898. They discovered as they were sharing the room that they were both believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and as Christians they had a concern for others who would be traveling and would be in hotel rooms and they decided that it would be a very good thing for Bibles to be provided, placed in the hotel rooms of the United States.

Now again, that began in 1898 and that was in the period when an increased percentage of Americans were beginning to travel. Hotel rooms were becoming more common, not only in the biggest cities of the United States, but just about anywhere else, especially where there was a rail line or other transportation centers. But we also have to understand that this came at one of the rather high watermarks of religious identification in the United States. At that point, 1898, this was an overwhelmingly Christian, Protestant nation. And out of the meeting of those two businessmen eventually came an organization known as Gideons International. In the time between when that group was formalized in 1908 and the present, Gideons International has distributed more than 2.4 billion Bibles around the world. That would include hospitals, prisons, schools, and hotels. But the point is there have been millions and millions and millions of Bibles placed by the Gideons in hotel rooms throughout the United States of America.

But this news story is not about the fact that Bibles are in millions of hotel rooms in the United States, that’s an established fact. That’s not news. The news behind this Washington Post report is the fact that surveys within the hotel industry indicate that it is becoming less likely that you will find a Gideon Bible or any other bible in the drawer of your hotel room and the in the future, it is likely to become even more unlikely. So what’s going on here?

The article begins with Hannah Samson, the reporter, indicating her surprise that she actually did find a Bible in her hotel room. She writes, “I was on a recent trip to Los Angeles, hardly the Bible Belt, when curiosity struck, I slid open the bedside table at my downtown hotel and there it was, a holy Bible placed by the Gideons.” Later in the trip she says at a second hotel, the book had some company in the book of Mormon. “Huh, I thought. That’s still a thing?,” so she wrote. Here’s where the numbers come in. She tells us that the hospitality research company STR indicated that 65% of responding hotels still offer, remember that’s 2018, “in room religious materials” and we are also told that in the case of those materials, it is overwhelmingly the fact that they will be Bibles and that those Bibles will have been provided by Gideons International.

Later in the article we read, “But according to the STR survey conducted every two years in coordination with the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the numbers have been on a downward trend. In 2008 for example, 84% of rooms had religious materials, a number that had fallen to 69% in 2016 before dropping further two years later.” But it’s also really interesting to see the next paragraph, “Industry experts say hotels are reconsidering most of what they put in rooms, including the very night tables that typically house bibles based on what guests say they want.”

Mehmet Erdem, identified as one who teaches hotel operations and information technology at the University of Nevada and Las Vegas, said, “They’re doing a better job of identifying the mission-critical amenities.” Now if you find yourself from time to time in a hotel, you might not have been considering whether or not the hotel was paying sufficient attention to your mission-critical amenities, but evidently that’s the lingo of the hotel industry. You heard it here.

Stanley Turkel identified as a consultant about the hotel industry said, “I’m thinking that technological advances will further reduce the number of Bibles in hotel rooms. What will be the subsequent technological device after iPhones?” He said, “I cannot predict. It’s not going to be Gideon Bibles in guest rooms.” Fascinating statement.

Now in one sense, it’s a putdown of the printed book. That’s what it is. But it is also interesting to note that there has to be more than just a putdown of the printed book behind this that wouldn’t lead to a major news story in the Washington Post. There has to be something bigger behind this and of course we recognize what it is. It is the fact that the Bible is not just a printed book, that the Bible makes a statement by its very existence. The presence of those Bibles by Gideons International or others in those hotel rooms is indeed a reminder of the fact that there is a spiritual reality, and furthermore, it was placed there at least by the Gideons, by their own explanation for two reasons.

One of them was to be a source of comfort for people who away from their families and on the road or traveling might need comfort. The other of course, is evangelism. Gideons International clearly believes in Christian evangelism. But we are living in an increasingly secularized age and in this secularized age, you have companies, major chains and brands trying to, and we’ve seen this so many times, indicate that they’re on the right side of cultural trends and that means many of them are going to try to be on the right side of the secular trend. Furthermore, every business in the United States if it plans to have a future does have to look at younger Americans and their expectations in a retail consumer environment. This article is very clear, younger Americans are not looking for either a bedside table, we are told, or for that matter a Bible. That’s more important to the story. It’s the headline.

When you’re thinking about those brands, the Washington Post tells us that most of the larger chains, that would include Hyatt, Hilton, and Intercontinental Hotels, they leave it up to the individual owners and operators of properties to decide whether or not they will put the Bible or other religious material in the rooms. But the interesting exception to the big brands is Marriott International. As the Washington Post says, “The company requires almost all of its 30 brands including those that were once part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts to place the Bible and the book of Mormon in its rooms.” A spokeswoman for the company said, “Providing the Bible and book of Mormon in guest rooms has been a company tradition since Marriott entered the lodging business more than 50 years ago.” She went on to say, “They are there for guests to read and take if they like.”

It is interesting to note, and there is incredible irony in this, that some people have felt themselves guilty for stealing the Bibles from Gideons International when actually in many cases they would happily have individuals take the Bible and read them. Evidently for Marriott International, that is true for the book of Mormon as well. Anyone staying in Marriott properties knows that’s true. Why is that true? Well, it is because even though Marriott is a publicly traded company, it has very deep roots amongst those who began the business, the Marriott family, which is extremely Mormon, very well identified not only with Mormonism but with Mormon causes. But evidently Marriott is also making exceptions for what the Washington Post calls the company’s “newer, hipper brands.”

These would include “millennial-aimed Moxy and Edition, a lifestyle brand in partnership with Ian Schrager.” The Post also tells us about the brand CitizenM, that’s a 12-year-old company with 20 locations, which does not put religious texts in its rooms and neither do the brands Freehand and Generator. Its CEO said, “The concept of putting a Bible in room is an outdated practice and is exclusive to the religious denomination that believes in that scripture only.” He went on to say, “We don’t provide Bibles in room because our travelers are so diverse and we want our properties to feel inclusive of all varying beliefs and spiritual traditions.”

Well, you can see exactly how that trend is marketed, but then also note there’s another brand that seems to do even a one up on that approach. This is Provenance Hotels with 14 properties in the US which according to the Washington Post, offers its guests a spiritual menu. They can look at the spiritual menu in their rooms and then guests can call the front desk and request the book of their choice. The company said that it created this option in order to “recognize and honor the diversity of our guests who hail from a myriad of cultural and religious traditions.” Well, when you think about that line, it actually becomes kind of a parable of the modern religious confusion, syncretism and pluralism that so many celebrate in the United States, and by the so many, I mean, the so many who are glad to have Christianity displaced as the main influence inside the society. A menu of spiritual options available just for calling the front desk is just about the perfect illustration of where many people want America to be.

Part III

The Bible is Dangerous, But Not in the Way Modern Secularists Think: The Transformative, Saving Power of the Word of God

But we are also told that that particular approach is welcomed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Now, you’ve heard of them before. We’ve discussed them on The Briefing. That is a secularist organization. I use that word carefully. It’s not just secular happening to be secular. It is secularist. That is it is an activist organization to push a secular agenda and it does so with both vehemence and a certain amount of venom. Consider the fact that this organization actually sells a $3 sticker identified as “perfect for hotel rooms,” which has a skull and crossbones that says, “Warning: literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life.”

So now we’re not just talking about the displacement of Scripture. We’re talking about the active hatred of Scripture. An organization that actually sells $3 stickers meant for ardent activists secularists to take to hotels in order to put this warning sticker onto the Bibles that might be found in hotel rooms. The company has been putting pressure on major brands and hotels to take the Bibles out of the rooms. Annie Laurie Gaylor identified as one of the presidents of the foundation said, “We don’t want to pay high prices to rent a room and then find this sometimes open Bible when we go to open the drawer and to be confronted with this book that is so primitive and very anti- our rights.”

Now let’s just think about that for a moment. It takes not only a measure of secular belief to come to the position where you would even request that Bibles be taken out of hotel rooms. It takes something else to respond with this kind of energy, this kind of condescension. For that matter, this kind of, how can we say it, hatred and allergy toward the Bible.

So here’s something Christians need to understand. The Bible is not an inert book. The Bible is not just any other book. It is not a tame book. Here is why the secularists hate it. It is the living and breathing Word of God. They’re not going to say that, but they fear it because it has power. When it is read, the truth of God is made clear, and you and I both know individuals who come to Christ merely by reading the Scriptures. After all, Jesus, speaking of the Old Testament said, “These are they that testify of me.”

Now, here is a very interesting intersection of evaluation. Here you have these ardent and angry secularists saying the Bible is a dangerous book and here’s where Bible-believing Christians actually are, in our own way, in agreement. We too believe that the Bible is a dangerous book. It’s very dangerous to unbelief. It is not a tame book. It is indeed the living and active Word of God, described in the book of Hebrews as sharper than any two-edged sword.

I was also interested to see that Annie Laurie Gaylor identified as one of the presidents of foundation went on to make a suggestion of her own. She said to the hotel industry, “Start a little library so people could come and get it.” She means not having the bible in the hotel rooms, but having a library of religious texts that guests could come and consult, choose one for themselves. She went on to say, “We hope that you will include perhaps the work of Richard Dawkins and nonbelievers as well.”

Now I’ll just say, I’ll go out on a limb here, I don’t expect these libraries to emerge in American hotels. It’s more likely that they will simply turn their rooms into increasingly sterile places, not putting any kind of literature whatsoever in them. But when you are thinking about this, it tells you a great deal that here you have this president of the Freedom From Religious Foundation arguing that perhaps the hotel industry should create these library of books within hotels and maybe include Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world these days and other nonbelievers. Here’s the point. I don’t really fear that. If that were to be created, I don’t really fear it. Why? Because I don’t fear that in the middle of the night a troubled soul is going to go to look for solace from Richard Dawkins. His universe is an accident. It is a cosmic happenstance. Human life means nothing other than a material accident. His universe is sterile and completely devoid of any ontological or deeply rooted meaning. It is a world in which there is ultimately no hope.

My hope is that there will still be those who will find a Bible in a hotel room or for that matter anywhere else a Bible may be found. Perhaps this is a reminder to you to give the Bible and to leave the Bible and to help to make the Bible available while there is time. My hope is still that there will be individuals who will pick up the Bible and read it. They will be convicted of their sin. They will be drawn to Christ. They will read of the gospel and they will come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. It may even be that there are people who read the Bible in a hotel room and decide, I want to find out what this book means, and like the Ethiopian eunuch in the Book of Acts, they find someone who knows the Bible in order that that person may explain it.

I did have the thought that it is interesting that this specialist for the hotel industry spoke of the hotel world’s attempt to identify what are the mission critical amenities that is to be found in a hotel room. But for Christians, let’s just remember this when we’re talking about the Bible and we are right now talking about the Bible, we’re talking about what for Christianity, for the Christian Church, and for the Christian life is absolutely mission critical.

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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