Friday, March 27, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, March 27, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Should Women Be Required to Register for the Draft? A Congressional Commission Recommends that Action
It would be easy to think that every major headline pointing towards the coronavirus means that that is all that is going on in our nation, but of course that's not true. It is right now by any question the most important story, but at the same time, even when we are looking at our federal government, it's apparent, other developments are also coming along. That was made clear, for example, in the release in the middle of this week of the report from what is known as, The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. That's a report from a commission given to Congress, but the report is also released to the public.
What is behind this report has been an effort in recent years to try to redefine the selective service process in order to prepare the nation in anticipation of any future military draft. The huge question make no mistake. It's just a few lines in the report, but the huge question is, whether or not young women should be required along with young men to register for the selective service and thus to be available in the event of any future military draft. It is interesting to step back for a moment and recognize that the issue of a military draft in the United States has always been controversial. That's not particular, by the way to the United States. It is common wherever citizens are able to vote in some kind of constitutional form of government. It's been true recurringly in the United States, different dimensions of controversy. The first is whether or not a draft would even be necessary. That's been a recurring controversy in the United States, sometimes ended as a controversy only by something as decisive as the attack of the Japanese empire upon the United States at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Other dimensions of controversy have to do with whether or not a draft is just and equitable at certain points in the United States, and that's true of the union armies during the civil war. Someone who was relatively wealthy could buy the service of someone else to serve and fight in his place. All the way through the Vietnam war, there have been recurring controversies over the equity and justice of the civil service draft process, but more recently, and you're there already, the big controversy comes down to the fact that only young men between the ages of 16 and 24 are required to register. It is not required of young women, but even at this point, it is really interesting to note how this particular controversy has been transformed over time.
When the controversy over whether or not young women on the basis of equity and equal rights should be required to register along with young men. When this argument originally showed itself, it was in the aftermath of second wave feminism. That was back in the day when at least when people in the United States spoke of men and women, they were speaking of biological men and biological women, but then comes along the transgender and gender revolution that has appended even that. So even in the time this commission has been serving, the question has morphed in a sense, and of course now we're talking about the fact that when you're talking about the military or any other arena of human activity in this country, even the use of terms like male and female, man and woman, well these turn out to be not quite clear.
But the report from this National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service calls for young women, yes, to be required legally to register for the selective service along with young men on an equal basis. Now, if you've been paying attention to the world, then you reach that conclusion even before the commission released its report. Why? Because that is the trajectory of the gender thinking of our society. That's the transformation not only of our understanding of gender, but of our understanding of equity and justice. And this is like a merry-go-round of different arguments because the second wave feminists were making the argument that in order to gain the kind of experience that men would gain by the military experience and especially access to the skills that are taught and to the leadership experience of an officer Corps, then the argument coming from the second way feminist is that in order to achieve equality, women must have the right to be engaged in every single military capacity as a man.
And that's been followed through all the way to at least the announcement--we're never quite sure about the honesty of the announcement--that all combat positions are equally open to women as to men upon certain qualifications. It is interesting to note that the New York Times coverage of this commission report mentions that, "Since the change in policy opening combat positions to women in 2015, 2000 women have served in quote army combat positions." End quote. The shocking issue there is not that the number is so large, but that the number is so respectively small.
One of the things that number tells us is that even as there are many who would say they are ready for women to serve in all combat positions, it's at least clear at this point that not all women are ready to serve in all combat positions. The patterns that we're looking at here are the patterns that are experienced in the US right now with an all volunteer military. Those who were in the military now and have been for a generation are there by choice, not by draft, but the moral and legal logic that's operational here needs to be considered very carefully by Christians. The logic comes down to this, even though the first argument was that women must have the right alongside men to have the military experience, access to all combat positions.
The argument then shifts to the argument of duty. If women have the right to serve in such positions, then very quickly the moral question emerges, why if they have the right, would they not have the corresponding duty? And inconsistency in the American worldview and in the American mind shows up when you look at different numbers and surveying and polling. The first number has to do with the percentage of Americans who say that women ought to have the right to enlist in combat positions and you compare that to the number of Americans who believe that women should be required to register for selective service. The gap between those two numbers tells us a very great deal about this inconsistency because logically, and this is very well attested in law and in national experience, if you argue that someone has an equal right, then at the same time you are effectively arguing that someone has an equal responsibility.
I've looked at the entire report from the commission and most of it should be ignored. It is intended to be ignored. It is filled, calling for different kinds of service by young adults in the United States, national service, public service and military service. Most of that is just an effort to try to get to burying the point, which is the requirement that emerges late in the report for young women to have to register for selective service as well as young men. Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Joseph Heck, chairman of the commission said, quote, "The biggest piece of opposition was, we are not going to draft our mother and daughters, our sisters and aunts to fight in hand to hand combat." End quote. The New York Times and goes on to say quote, "But as women have increasingly taken on a larger presence in military life and culture making up about 17% of active duty troops, commissioners concluded that expanding the registration process to include all Americans in the event of a draft was a quote necessary and fair step."
Now, it has often been observed that the formation of a committee or a commission can mean one of two things. It can mean that there's an intention to do something or that there's an intention not to do something. It's hard to know exactly what Congress intended, but then again, the Congress that will be seated acting on this in 2021 if indeed Congress does act on it, is going to be different than the Congress that established the commission in the first place. This is in another sense a way of kicking the can down the street, avoiding personal responsibility, but eventually if Congress is to change the policy, it will require congressional action. It will require a vote. And unless a veto from the president is overwritten by Congress, it will require the signature of the president of the United States.
At that point, just thinking about how Washington works, it's going to be interesting to see how people take a stand, vote one way or the other, if indeed Congress summons the courage actually to vote on this. It may be that the establishment of this commission is at least for some time a way of buying time. Another way to look at this is, the fact that if Congress does not act, it's likely that some case along the same logic is going to work its way through the federal courts until eventually Congress may, as they've done on so many different issues, try to hope for some kind of rescue from the Supreme Court acting where Congress did not have the courage itself to act, but it is at least at this point that Christians need to think biblically and understand that we really do learn from scripture that there is an essential distinction between being male and being female.
We understand that being made in God's image as male and female is an objective reality and we understand that there are different assignments given to men and women. Does this mean that no women should ever serve in combat? Well, that raises the question: What exactly is combat? As an understanding of the background, even if the current military makes clear combat can be defined to include, for instance, a combat nurse or other kinds of contexts in which it is not so much that a soldier is carrying a gun, but is necessarily proximate or close to the field of battle. Phillip Carter cited in the New York Times as a former army officer and veteran of the Iraq war said this: "Women have proven themselves since 9/11 as pilots, medics, military police, engineers, and as part of the special operations and intelligence communities."
He went on to say quote, "If America resorts to a draft to mobilize for war again, the experience of the past 18 years shows that the nation can and should rely on women to fight too." End quote. Indeed, going back through American history, American women in or out of uniform have made demonstrable contributions to the national war effort, war after war, battle after battle, but a biblical worldview certainly reminds us that there are distinctions that do remain and must be respected and at the very least going back to that statement made defensively by the chairman of this commission, there is good reason that Americans would not be satisfied--to go back to his quote--to quote, "Draft our mother and daughters, our sisters and aunts to fight in hand to hand combat." End quote.
There is good reason why the vast majority of Americans, I believe by intuition if not by argument, agree that it is not right, quote, "To draft our mother and daughters, our sisters and aunts to fight in hand to hand combat." End quote. I actually think at least at the intuitional judgment level, there's a vast consensus about that fact in the United States. But again, that shows us how even a little bit of confusion over gender can lead to massively confused realities.
If you buy into the worldview that there's no essential distinction between men and women, if you buy into the idea that equity or equality means that there must be absolute equality of opportunity of men and of women, then you are also making the argument that there is an absolute identity and correspondence of moral duty, no distinction between men and women. At least a part of what is in the background here is the essential distinction physically between men and women. There are very real, intractable, unchanging differences between men and women, and yes, this makes a difference on the battlefield. It is not a difference in courage. It is a distinction that has a different essential meaning.
Or we might put it another way. If you just consider a picture, a picture of a nation at war where you have an army being sent into battle and then you have other parents who are left at home caring for young children, I think it's fair to say regardless of what they identify as their ideological or partisan position, that most Americans don't believe that men and women are actually interchangeable in that picture. It's actually impossible, honestly to argue that changing that picture wouldn't change the reality both on the battlefield and in the home.
Is the Future of Sports Genderless? The Cultural Drive to Level the Playing Field Across Gender
But then next, that takes us to a different arena in which this confusion is evident. Consider this article headline in the Wall Street Journal in recent days, "The Contest Over Gender." The article is by Louise Radnofsky. The subhead is this, "Are Two Sports Divisions, Men and Women's, enough?"
Well, just consider this in this pause in international sporting activity, including the Olympic games scheduled for later this year. Now you have an open debate about whether or not in this pause this is the right time to consider if men and women's categories in sport are enough. Radnofsky writes, quote, "At the Dawn of the 2020’s most sports have a men's category, a women's category, and intense fighting about the definitions." I'll just stop there for a moment and say that that intense fighting is not only a fairly recent phenomenon, but it is ideologically laden. Radnofsky then rightly sights the challenge of trying to figure out some of the sporting categories when it comes to those who are classified as intersex, but that is not the issue of greatest controversy, nor is it the leading edge of the moral revolution here.
Rather, that's where we pick up when she writes, quote, "Officials are also responding to transgender athletes who pose many of the same questions about binary divisions." She continues, and I quote, "Disputes are rippling across the Olympics, adult recreational and school sports. High school students in Connecticut have sued to keep transgender girls from competing in the female category. Lawmakers and at least five states are trying to enact provisions to bar transgender girls and women from female events." End quote. Now pause here for a moment and recognize how much of the battle is lost already in the language. When you refer routinely, indeed over and over again, in this article to transgender girls and transgender women, when you use the noun girls and women, well, there you have already stacked the deck.
On the Briefing sometime back, we discussed the lawsuit in Connecticut, and you're likely to see the same kind of development in many other states as well, and it comes down to whether or not this society's actually willing to swallow the poisonous argument that gender is just a social construct. That doesn't make sense according to a biblical worldview; it does make sense according to the confused worldview of the day. But let's just point out, it doesn't make sense on the track. It doesn't make sense on the field. Increasingly, it doesn't make sense on the wrestling mat either. But the truly most interesting part of Radnofsky's article is where she writes, quote, "Some researchers think that two categories are inadequate, and the future lies in creating more. Others propose eliminating the two categories and changing the rules so that everyone can play against each other." End quote.
Now just consider the fact that those two arguments are actually contradictory. We are being told either there are too few gender categories or too many. Consider the confusion represented in this paragraph. Quote, "Biological traits typically linked to the male sex such as higher testosterone levels and more muscle mass will likely continue to explain why some athletes outperform others according to scientists and academics." The next sentence quote, "But they say the science will likely evolve to more precisely capture which traits matter most." End quote. That is what we should call a non-sequitur. It's one statement that does not logically follow from the other. The confusion and all of this is apparent.
Just a few lines later, Joanna Harper, identified as a transgender athlete who studied the effects of transition on performance--this person said, quote, "There's unfortunately no perfect solution to setting up a women's category. In 2020 the best marker we have is T, that means testosterone." But that's also a stacked argument. It's an argument stating that testosterone levels, which can be indicated by hormone tests are the only significant issue. But of course, that level is not the only significant issue because once a male body goes through puberty, there is an increase in muscle mass, and there is also a skeletal growth that will give a male a longer stride and other physical assets regardless of whether that individual considers himself a male or not.
The confusion only grows deeper. When Alan Rogol of The University of Virginia and Myron Genel of Yale University, they're both professors emeritus and pediatric endocrinologists—they’re cited as believing that the influence of T, that is testosterone, is quote, "Less important than the sum of hormones, genetics, training, coaching and equipment among other things." End quote. Seriously, now even training and coaching and equipment are being brought in as if they're going to make the decisive difference when it comes to supposedly equalizing or even eliminating the categories of male and female in Olympic sport.
My favorite line, however, in the entire article comes from Alison Heather, identified as a physiologist who said, quote, "The time for having two divisions to cover our society. It's long gone. Sport hasn't caught up. It's time to address that." End quote. That particular quote is absolutely priceless. Priceless because of its basic dishonesty. How is it that supposedly the rest of the world has arrived at a moment in which male and female doesn't matter? Why are sports identified here as the outliers? In reality, sports are not the outliers except in this one sense: in sport, people keep score. The English department at Yale University may argue overwhelmingly that gender is nothing more than a social construct, but there's still a distinction in Yale's athletic department between male and female sport.
The article concludes by arguing that maybe what is necessary is the absolute eradication of gender distinction in sports, but then that will lead to an unfair situation for those human beings previously identified as female, especially in such sports as tennis where we are told that the over-armed serve is a gender distinction and in golf where it turns out the power of the drive is a gender distinction. So the articles suggest that maybe the way to solve this, is to let some professional golfers drive the ball from closer to the hole.
And I'll just say that I am all for that because by that logic, I should play Tiger Woods in golf. He can start from 400 yards back, and I'll start from say four feet or even four inches. Given my handicap, that should work. I've never played golf.
What Makes Someone a Hero? A Christian Understanding of Heroism in This Crucial Historical Moment
But finally, I want to end by thinking about a Christian understanding of heroism. Where does the word hero come from? Well, according to the dictionary, it comes down to an understanding of courage and achievement and of morality, noble qualities, at least in theory. Our heroes are those who have achieved great things, risked great things, and have represented great virtues. We can at least hope that is our understanding of heroism. A Christian biblical understanding of heroism means that we have to lean into the most important moral qualities, the qualities of virtue. And yet it is interesting to note right now that there are many who are disappointed, especially in the fact that the Olympics are going to have to be postponed. Jason Gay writing his column for the Wall Street Journal says this, quote, "I've written before that one of the things I admire about the Olympics is that every day you see the best moment of someone's life." Then he asks, "And how often can you say that?" End quote.
At least some have argued that the postponement of the Olympics means that there is a pause in our ability to celebrate heroism in our midst. But here's the problem. When you're looking at Olympic achievement, when you're looking at athletic achievement or achievement in many different of life, especially when you consider the distinction between celebrity and the hero, we have to understand that our society is quite confused. This is not to say that athletes cannot be heroic. Indeed, they can be. But the point is, that rightly understood, heroism comes down to taking a risk to do the right thing, to stand for the right virtues at the very time when they are on the line. Daniel Boorstin, the late Librarian of Congress, famously identified a celebrity as one who was famous for being famous. Contrast that with the hero who may not actually be famous at all.
Here's where the Christian worldview reminds us that heroism is doing the right thing for the right reason, even in the most difficult of circumstances, even without the world watching or a stadium applauding. Many of the most heroic acts undertaken in human history are unknown to me or to you or to all of us, but not unknown to God. We've talked about the military today, and certainly the military, warfare, has often been an arena in which the heroic has arisen and been recognized. But again, even on the battlefield, many of those who have acted most heroically are never known to have done so. They've never been celebrated. No one built a statue to them.
Just a few months ago, The American Scholar, the journal published by the academic society Phi Beta Kappa, raised the issue of quote, "What Our Heroes Tell Us About Ourselves." End quote. Indeed, that's the bottom line, isn't it? What our heroes tell us about ourselves? How do we recognize heroism, and do we recognize the right virtues as being heroic? This particular issue of the journal dealt with statues, statues of historic figures, asking the question, in this era, which statues should remain and which should be removed? That's a very different controversy than what I intend to address on The Briefing today. I want to go back to those words on the cover of the journal. “What our heroes tell us about ourselves?” And I want to do that in the context of March of 2020.
I want to make the argument that rightly understood, we need an entire new category of heroes, heroes who are doctors and nurses and others working in hospitals and medical centers, putting themselves at risk in order to protect and extend the lives of others. I want us to think about those who are delivering to our homes matters of consequence and importance. I want to think about those who are stocking the grocery store shelves. I want to think about those who are making the world work when most of us are now working differently than we've ever worked before.
I think of my late father who spent almost his entire adult life in the grocery business. I think of members of my family in the grocery business, even now in the local store. And I'm thinking of all of those by not only the thousands, but the millions, who are continuing to work under the most extraordinary circumstances. We're finding heroism where we never knew to find it before. In a grocery store aisle. Behind a cash register. This new recalibration of heroism doesn't stop at the grocery store or the pharmacy. It extends to all places in all persons known and unknown, visible and hidden, who are living heroic lives or even experiencing heroic moments in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis.
As a society, we do not pass out gold medals to grocery store stockers or to X-ray technicians. But when you think about it, we probably should.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
I'm looking forward, I'll remind you, to meeting many of you at 1:00 PM Eastern Time this afternoon for the first-ever Boyce College virtual preview conference. I wish I could meet you face-to-face, but we're going to do the next best thing. We're going to meet in this virtual preview conference. If you're a high school student or you know and love a high school student looking for a Christian worldview, higher education of the greatest conviction in fidelity, there's still time to join us. Just go to Boycecollege.com/preview. Remember, it's at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. I hope to meet many of you then.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to Boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.