briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, April 27, 2020

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

It’s Monday, April 27, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

U.K. Minors to be Banned from Surgery to ‘Change’ Gender: The Controversy Reveals as Much as the Announcement

The British Equalities Minister made big news going into the weekend when she made the announcement that the new policy of the British government is going to be that those under age 18 will not have access to what is known as sex reassignment surgery or gender reassignment surgery. In this case, the British government minister’s name is Liz Truss, and just as the weekend was about to begin, she announced that the UK government will set up the details later this summer on a policy that, as Gabriella Swerling reported for the Telegraph of London, would mean that, “Children who wished to undergo surgery to change their gender will be banned from doing so in the future, in a landmark move,” as Swerling reports, “which has been criticized by trans rights charities as introducing a new form of inequality into British medical practice.” Well, we are told that this move is now to be undertaken by the conservative government in Britain.

Now, we need to pause for a moment and recognize that conservative or liberal, just about any other modifier of that kind, has to be explained in its context. In Britain, the Conservative Party is much more conservative than the main opposing party, the Labour Party, which at least until fairly recently was avowedly socialist, and even under its last party leader had a socialist at the helm.

But the Conservative Party, which does harken back to a very long conservative tradition, in the United Kingdom it is now primarily conservative when it comes to foreign policy, economic policy, and other issues, but not when it comes to social policy. About 10 years ago, the Tory Party, or the Conservatives, as they are known in Britain, decided basically to surrender to the moral revolution, especially on LGBTQ issues. But as this announcement makes clear, that approach has its limitations. And when it comes to the T in LGBTQ, one of the limitations, the most crucial limitation, is when the surgery is demanded on behalf of or by children, minors.

This is news precisely because it would represent a change in policy, as the Telegraph of London reports. Currently, people under the age of 18 are allowed surgery, but with parental consent. Now, without going into any kind of graphic detail, just think for a moment about what this surgery represents. In a macabre fashion, it is now called gender reassignment, or sex alignment, or reassignment surgery, and it involves a surgical attempt, and that’s the only word that can be used here, to try to make a biological male appear as a biological female and vice versa. Of course, there is no surgery on the planet that can actually turn a biological male into a female or a biological female into a male because that is a part of the basic genetic structure, and as Christians understand, it is a part of our identity as given to us by our Creator on an individual basis, making us as male or female.

But we also understand that it is impossible precisely because by the time you reach a certain point of maturity, and most importantly, that means puberty, there are skeletal developments, there are muscle mass developments, there are any number of primary and secondary developments that are clearly indicated as male or female. And of course, it tells you also about the enormous desperation experienced by many people who are undergoing what is now clinically called gender dysphoria. But it also reminds us of the fact that even as we are concerned for people who have this kind of confusion and struggle, when you’re looking at this kind of surgery, it does represent the intentional mutilation of a human body. Any intervention to try to prevent puberty, by the way, by the use of puberty blockers and later hormone therapies is also an attempt to try to redirect what the genetic code is attempting to indicate. And of course, Christians would go behind that to say what God’s intention was for the individual.

Last month, World Magazine ran a story with the headline, “Lawsuit Says Clinic Rushed Teenager Into Life Changing Transgender Treatments.” The article tells us, “A 23-year-old British woman is suing a gender transition clinic that treated her in her teens, saying the clinic did not confront her sufficiently before giving her hormones to try to make her a male.” Now again, even as World Magazine accurately reports it here, we are told that the administration of these hormones to a teenager was “to try to make her a male,” but as we also have to acknowledge more specifically, it could only try to make her more male-ish, you might say. It can’t change the genetic structure but it can alter the course of puberty and development.

The article in the World continues, “Keira Bell went to the Tavistock GIDS Clinic, the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom when she was 16. She told the BBC that the clinic put her on puberty blockers after three hours of appointments.” She said, “I should have been challenged more. No one was there to say anything different.” As the report says, the young woman now says the clinic should have given her more therapy before it put her on drugs. The report also tells us that she stopped taking the prescribed testosterone and cross sex hormones last year, “And now said she accepts that she is female.”

The argument to be made by her lawyers is that minors are “incapable of understanding the impact of gender transition therapy on their future lives.” You would think that it would make sense to anyone that minors should not be given access to this kind of treatment, puberty blockers and hormone suppressants, hormone therapies, not to mention that sex reassignment surgery, or as some now calling it, a gender alignment surgery. The change in language is not accidental, but in any event, they can’t change what it actually is.

The Telegraph offers the most extensive coverage of this controversy in Britain to date. We are told that the Equalities Minister had signaled plans to ban teenagers under 18 with gender dysphoria from what’s described in the article as genital reconstructive surgery, in a move that the minister said would, “Protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

Now, as listeners to The Briefing will know, government ministers in the United Kingdom have approximately the same rank as cabinet secretaries in the system of government of the United States executive branch. Whereas we would have a Secretary of Defense, they would have a Minister of Defense and the Secretary of State and a Foreign Minister. You could go down the list. But we have no one in the United States Cabinet that has the equivalent responsibility as the Equalities Minister in the United Kingdom. It is also true that prime ministers in Great Britain have a great deal of individual leeway over the number and structure of cabinet positions that they will name.

It’s also clear that the Equalities Minister in the British government is not stating that the government is in any way opposed to sex reassignment surgery for adults or those 18 and over. As a matter of fact, she seems to say that the government is all for it. She says, “I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision making capabilities, that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

More important, and certainly more revealing than the comments made by the Equalities Minister, are comments made by an activist. In this case, it was a spokesperson for Mermaids, identified as a charity which supports transgender children. The spokesperson for Mermaids said, “We believe that transgender young people should have the same right to make important personal decisions as non-trans people.”

The spokesperson went on to say, “It would be an extraordinary move for the Minister for Women and Equalities to support the introduction of a new form of inequality into British medical practice by effectively treating transgender teenagers as less capable than their cisgender peers.” Now, we just have to pause and look at this for a moment.

First of all, you have this word cisgender used; that’s a word that only makes sense in the aftermath of the intentional confusion of the transgender revolution. Cisgender refers to people born male who believe themselves to be male and identify as male, and those born female who believe themselves to be female and identify as female, which means the vast majority of all persons now living, one or the other, male or female. But cisgender indicates that it’s just another option. It just another identity. It’s another effort to try to drown all rationality in identity politics and identity theory.

But you’ll notice here there is more than just the use of the word “cisgender.” Let me go back to the statement. “It would be an extraordinary move for the Minister for Women and Equalities to support the introduction of a new form of inequality into British medical practice by effectively treating transgender teenagers as less capable than their cisgender peers.” Now at this point, we are in the deepest part of the deep end of the pool of irrationality, when we are being told that when you have teenagers, that is under 18s, or 18 and unders, depending on how they are defined here, and they identify as, well, male or female as they were born male or female, then they are actually being privileged in some sort because they are not being denied what transgender teenagers and children are being denied. This is the strangest, most Orwellian definition of equality imaginable. The accusation is that forbidding those who identify as transgender but are 18 and under from having access to the sex reassignment surgery is a form of inequality.

But before leaving this story, it’s also very important to recognize that as the Social Affairs editor for the Times of London, Greg Hurst reports, the big issue cited by the government is likely to be that you are looking at minors who are demanding irreversible decisions. That would mean that therapeutic interventions that are not irreversible might be allowed. That might include hormone treatments and what are known as puberty blockers.

Similar kinds of policies to that announced by, or at least pre-announced by the Women and Equalities Minister in the United Kingdom are being considered by some American states at least as proposed or conceived legislation. And already the same kind of political opposition and arguments are being marshaled by the LGBTQ community. This is something we just have to expect now. We’ll be watching these developments in the future on both sides of the Atlantic but there’s no doubt right now the big news is on the British side. But the big question for Christians is just this, to what point of irrationality must a society come for this kind of news to be even conceivable or imaginable, not to mention openly opposed and pilloried in the media? This is yet another indication of just how far along in a process of moral revolution we have now already come.

Part II

Saving a Billion People from Starvation: Not Everyone Thinks It Was a Good Idea

Next, last week we discussed the Earth Day 50th anniversary; that was last Wednesday. It is interesting to see in the follow-up to that observance, the New York Times ran an article that talks about what has changed and what hasn’t changed. It’s very interesting that at the top of the page of this article, one of the issues that they addressed was this, “People feared mass starvation. It didn’t happen.” The newspaper tells us, “One of the starkest warnings of the 1970s was that there were simply too many people and not enough food. Widely read books like The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich warned of the collapse of civilization. Things didn’t turn out that way.” The article continued, “The world’s population has more than doubled since 1970 to nearly 7.8 billion people, yet the share of people living in extreme poverty has plummeted.”

Now just notice again, the share of the world’s people living in extreme poverty has plummeted and the mass starvation didn’t happen. That’s good news, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it have to be good news? But at least to some people, it appears that really isn’t good news. The article stated, “Technology helped. Researchers developed high yielding crops, and today’s farmers can grow more than twice as much corn, rice, and wheat on a given area of land on average than in 1970.”

The article does at least concede the fact that much of the population control movement was also fueled by an effort to try to reduce the human footprint on planet earth, and that meant that there was going to be an uneven application that’s called eugenics, that is the argument that the right people should have babies, the wrong people shouldn’t have babies.

“50 years ago, there was mainstream alarm about population growth, which led to sterilization campaigns and other gruesome policies. The newspaper celebrates today that message is virtually absent from environmentalism.” You’re not going to hear some of the arguments from the 1970s but in the main, the arguments do continue. They’re just in a new context of concern about climate change.

Part III

Ideas Have Consequences: Sometimes It Comes Down to Whether People Eat or Starve

But that was last week, and that’s an important issue from last week, and it carries over this week to news coverage about a man named Norman Borlaug. He’s often referred to as the most important person in human history that almost no human beings know of, but there are millions and millions of human beings who are alive because of what he did. Norman Borlaug was an agronomist in the United States who developed what became known as the Green Revolution. He used his background in agriculture and agronomy to come up with the very ways that were mentioned in that New York Times article last week of radically multiplying the yields that would come from crops.

He had spent a lot of his time in Mexico. Mexican crop yields were very low. He saw the impact of poverty and, of course, of famine and starvation. He said that once he had tasted of it, he was determined to try to bring an end to it, and he used his intelligence and scientific background to try to come up with new ways of agriculture that would lead to vast, vast increases in the amount of wheat and rice and other grains that would come from say, a stated acre of land, and that’s actually what happened. He developed seed lines and strains that led to a vast increase in productivity. They were resistant to disease. They made better use of water. The bottom line is that human beings avoided starvation at the very time that people like Paul Ehrlich were estimating that hundreds of millions of people would die of starvation. Some were arguing that billions would die of starvation just in the decade of the ’70s alone.

It didn’t happen. Instead, the Green Revolution happened. But it didn’t just happen; it happened because of individuals like Norman Borlaug, but it actually happened because of Norman Borlaug more than anyone else. And it was for that fact that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He has been credited by the scientific community with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. That’s over a billion people. And of course, those yields continue, as do the logic and science that he had applied to agronomy continues to bring about the feeding of billions of people who otherwise would have starved.

But at the very same time, PBS is releasing a documentary entitled, “The Man Who Tried to Feed the World: A Tale of Good Deeds and Unintended Consequences.” Well, the very subtitle tells you that PBS is presenting a documentary that says he meant to do a good thing but it might not have been so good in the end.

There are others who have noticed what’s going on here. The Wall Street Journal, over the weekend, ran an editorial with the headline, “Battering Norman Borlaug.” They accused PBS of rewriting the history of the father of the Green Revolution. The PBS documentary, according to the Wall Street Journal, does acknowledge that without Borlaug’s innovations, it would be difficult, if not impossible to feed many of the world’s billions. But nonetheless, the documentary then turns to the unintended consequences. “These include everything from diminished water supplies and depleted soil to increased urbanization in Mexico and a ‘broken society’ in India.”

The editors rightly then note, “What these critics never say is what the alternative was, or answer whether their implicit message is that it might have been better if Borlaug had done nothing and let tens of millions of people starve.”

Justin Cremer, writing for the Alliance for Science at Cornell University, ran an article with the headline, “Norman Borlaug Saved Millions of Lives: Would His Critics Prefer He Hadn’t?” Well, we simply need to answer that question honestly. I don’t believe that any of these critics would say that they would want any particular individual to have died of starvation, but their logic is that there is a very dark consequence to the fact that so many people didn’t starve in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and continuing into the 21st century.

The argument coming from so many is that the world’s biggest problem is that there are too many human beings. Now, there are limited ways to avoid the world having that many human beings. One of them would be the kind of forced sterilization effort that even the New York Times said is better not heard of ever again, or you have to try to come up with something that is going to eliminate tens of millions, indeed, eventually hundreds of millions, even eventually, if we’re honest, billions of people from planet Earth.

Starvation would have done that. It’s an incredibly dark truth that there are people who now openly lament the fact that so many people have escaped poverty and escaped famine by means of the Green Revolution. Did the Green Revolution come with other consequences? Yes, everything comes with consequences. People living means that they will have needs, and they might even present problems that wouldn’t have existed if they had not come to life or if they had been starved to death. But what a horrible calculation for anyone to make.

John Vidal, writing just in recent days at The Guardian, that is a left wing but very influential newspaper from London—by the way, a little footnote, it is the British newspaper with the largest readership in the United States—the Guardian ran the article by Vidal with a headline, “Norman Borlaug, Humanitarian Hero or Menace to Society?” Menace to society? Again, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for saving over a billion people from starvation. Is there a downside to that? Well, when you look at this headline, it is openly asked whether he is indeed a humanitarian hero or a menace to society.

Cremer, in his article for the Alliance for Science at Cornell says this, “To be fair to those who participated in the documentary, the filmmakers may not have done them any favors. At the outset of the film, we see the economist and writer Raj Patel suggest that Borlaug was undeserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, yet viewers are never told why, nor does Patel suggest a hypothetical alternative to what should have been done to the millions of people who face starvation.”

But then Cremer continues to write, and listen to this closely, “Maybe those answers were left on the cutting room floor because Patel does expand on his views in an interview posted to the PBS website where he blames the Green Revolution for ‘an urbanization in which we become more and more divorced from the sources of our food.’” And we are told Raj Patel romanticizes an alternate reality in which we are all, in his words, “Much more connected with the ecology through which our food moves and derive deep satisfaction from eating together.”

What in the world do we do with that? Here we have an economist implicitly arguing that we’d be in a better situation if over a billion people had starved to death but those who did survive had a better relationship, at least emotionally and philosophically, with our food.

Right after that statement, Justin Cremer says that he really doubts that Patel thinks that alternate reality would be worth millions of people starving, but he makes very clear viewers of the documentary won’t know that. And then Cremer writes, “And therein lies the problem with this posthumous questioning of Borlaug’s legacy.” In a written statement, Dr. Ronnie Kauffman, Director of International Programs at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said, “It’s far too easy to criticize Borlaug while offering no solutions.” Kauffman said, “People who criticize Borlaug should be forced to identify an ethical alternative to what he did.”

But that just takes us back to a basic fact. The alternative in the 1970s was the starvation of hundreds of millions of people, now counted well over a billion people, or the fact that they didn’t starve to death. Those were the alternatives. We must be thankful for the alternative that did happen, and very thankful that it’s opposite did not happen, that rather than the predicted mass starvation, instead, not only were hundreds of millions of people saved from famine, but a larger percentage living even today have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Now, it’s also important to note in this article in The Guardian, a paper that has a basically socialist slant, that as they are looking at Norman Borlaug, there’s a basic misrepresentation. Talking about the hopes for feeding humanity and alleviating poverty, The Guardian article tells us, “As we know, that never happened and by the 1980s doubts were being aired. According to the critics, the Green Revolution varieties undoubtedly had averted food shortages temporarily but, said his obituarist, Christopher Reed, they had not averted poverty. In fact, they might have added to it.”

But they didn’t add to it, not in the net. And furthermore, the people were alive. And would you ask millions and millions, even billions of people alive in poverty if they would rather never have lived or their parents and grandparents died of starvation? What do you think the answer would have been? But furthermore, it’s a misrepresentation to say that the Green Revolution averted food shortages temporarily. That’s not true. The proof of it is on your table and in your cupboard and refrigerator right now.

Comments to this effect, by the way, were made on the floor of the United States Senate just a few days ago. They were made by United States Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. No coincidence there. Norman Earnest Borlaug was born in 1914 in Cresco, Iowa. Senator Grassley was speaking with pride of an Iowa native. He pointed out that Borlaug had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. It is not known that any other single individual had received all of those awards.

But it’s very interesting to note that in the United States Capitol, in what is known as Statuary Hall, there are statues, two statues, from each of the 50 states. And Senator Grassley reminds us, and this is a fairly recent development, that one of the two statues from the state of Iowa is none other than Norman Ernest Borlaug. Once again, a reminder that ideas have consequences, lives have consequences, and sometimes, nothing less than life and death is indeed hanging in the balance.

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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