The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

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New York Times

For Boris Johnson, a Baby Amid a Dizzying Year of Peaks and Valleys

by Mark Landler and Stephen Castle

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Part

Friday, May 1, 2020

Friday, May 1, 2020

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Transcript

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

It's Friday, May 1, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Moral Revolution: A New World Revealed in a Birth Announcement

Sometimes it's not the giant headlines that have the greatest worldview significance, but at least taken cumulatively, sometimes it's the smaller headlines that are telling us in subtle and not so subtle ways that the world is changing, especially when it comes to morality and that morality, transforming marriage, family, sexuality, you name it. Two headlines coming out of Great Britain and both of them landing in the American media basically yesterday for one thing, it was announced over the last couple of days that the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently recovered from a very serious bout of COVID-19 and the woman identified as his partner, Carrie Symonds, have now welcomed a baby boy into the world. The British media are absolutely ablaze about this because the birth of this healthy baby boy, for which all are thankful, is a sign of good news in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, all kinds of bad news and challenge.

But the British prime minister having survived the coronavirus himself, is now a proud father to a baby boy. What is most interesting is, not just as if you could say not just, the fact that the British prime minister is not yet married to Carrie Symonds who is the mother of his child. They are expected to be married, she's identified as his fiancée. The bigger factor when you take all of this in is that the British media are asking a very big question that the British prime minister has not answered and the fact that he doesn't answer and perhaps doesn't know, raises a host of indications about the moral revolution around us. What's the question? How many children does he have? To how many children is he father? It could be five, six, or seven. The British media have come up with all kinds of potential answers, but the British prime minister isn't even answering the question.

Now, as you think about this, just reflect upon the fact that paternity, that is the identity of a father, has been one of the most significant issues in all of law and social concern over the course of millennia. Pitirim Sorokin, the founder of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University in the 20th century said that one of the first requirements of civilization is that fathers take responsibility for their offspring. You can't have civilization without it. We're living in a society right now that is trying to refute that claim. When you consider the British prime minister, in this case, Boris Johnson, the most interesting thing perhaps is to recognize that that has been the kind of position, the prime minister, the monarch’s first minister of Britain, the head of government, that has always been a position that has been established by and understood to require moral rectitude.

It's been understood that the prime minister should be a moral example to the British people and in one sense perhaps Boris Johnson now is, but that's the bigger story, isn't it? You're looking at the fact that Britain has been experiencing a rather radical loosening of any rules about sexual morality over the course of the last six or seven decades. Mark Landler and Stephen Castle reporting on the birth of the baby for the New York Times tell us, "Prime Minister Boris Johnson's life has always had a, you-can't-make-this-up quality to it. Never more so than this month when he went from desperate coronavirus patient kept alive by oxygen to the proud father of a baby boy: his fifth, sixth, or seventh child, depending on who's counting." Again, that's the New York Times, one of the world's most authoritative newspapers saying that on a question of this significance, no one knows the answer, or at least no one other than Boris Johnson appears to know the answer.

In moral terms, it might be that the most significant point of analysis is that Boris Johnson does to a considerable degree now, even in the midst of what would previously have been a scandal, he does now perhaps represent a basic understanding of sexuality and marriage that isn't all that out of line with the culture that he now leads as head of government.

In the United States this issue really arose in connection with the presidency of Bill Clinton. The 42nd president of the United States was elected in 1992, took office in January of 1993. Even as he was running for president, there was an admission, a tacit acknowledgement, that he had been involved in extramarital affairs even as he was the governor of Arkansas. This came up in the campaign, voters calculated it into their electoral decision in November of 1992, and he was elected president, unseating the incumbent president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the U.S.

The issue here is that Bill Clinton was the first baby boomer president of the United States and it was widely assumed that in his own biography he represented the sexual revolution that had taken place just about the time that he and others amongst the older baby boomers were hitting the university campus, the free love movement in the 1960s and beyond. The big issue is the moral shock that that kind of behavior, or at least a background of that kind of behavior, had now ended up in the Oval Office. Of course, the unfolding scandals related to Bill Clinton made clear that this was not just a part of his past, not at all.

It was only years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 that Americans came to understand that he had been engaged in a rather licentious sexual immorality during the time he was president, in which there were actually various affairs arranged for him. Americans also had to come terms with the fact that Kennedy, before he was president, was involved in all kinds of sexual immorality, including an affair with a suspected Nazi spy during World War II. He later shared a mistress with one of the leaders of organized crime in the United States. You really can't make that up.

The same thing is true of the current prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson. Andrew Gimson, one of the biographers of Boris Johnson said, "He has this theatrical ability to put himself in the middle of every scene. All these career politicians look so dreary next to him." Later in the article, the New York Times reporters tell us this, "Mr. Johnson's talent for engaging and entertaining voters has enabled him to defy political gravity throughout his career. No recent prime ministers have refused to say publicly how many children they have, for example. With four children from his second marriage and possibly two from extramarital relationships, the exact number of his progeny remains a matter of conjecture."

But if a similar kind of question came up first in the United States with the first baby boomer president, they exploded in a near thermonuclear sense in the 2016 presidential election in the candidacy of Donald Trump, now the 45th president of the United States. Donald Trump, long before he was president, had written about, bragged about his sexual exploits outside of marriage and Americans knew that full well when they elected him president in the 2016 election. The point I want to make is this: the election of Bill Clinton wouldn't have been possible in 1992, the election of Donald Trump wouldn't have been possible in 2016, if the United States had not undergone a fundamental moral transformation between, let's just say, the years 1960 and 1992.

The same thing is now quite clearly true in Britain. Boris Johnson is not the first British prime minister to have been involved in sexual immorality and promiscuity in his past, if not in his present. But the point is this, it would not have been possible for one to achieve such political prominence with that being known in any previous time, but now it is. So the story turns out to be not so much about Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, but rather the fact that the big story is about moral change in the entire society, we note on both sides of the Atlantic. There's another unifying feature when it comes to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, as is acknowledged in this article in the New York Times. Every single one of them—this article is about Boris Johnson, but it is true also a Bill Clinton and it's even more true of Donald Trump—each of those men had and has the uncanny ability to put himself at the center of every story.

But in any event, we can all be thankful for the healthy birth of a little baby boy in Great Britain. The one thing we know is that he is not responsible for the circumstances of his conception or his birth. The birth of any baby is always to be celebrated as God's gift of life. And so welcome to the world, little boy in Britain, who knows what the world's going to look like when you're old enough to understand it.

Part

Did You Have a Mother? An Attempt to Turn the Entire Moral Structure of Western Society Upside Down

But next, yet another headline coming from Great Britain, this story also appeared in the New York Times. Iliana Magra is the reporter. The headline: “British Court Rejects Transgender Man's Appeal to be Listed as a Father.” Now, I discussed this story when the preliminary judicial decision was handed down in Britain when I was also in London. Doing The Briefing from London back in the Fall I discussed that court decision, but the latest news story has come about because the same individual has lost an appeal at this point to a higher court in Britain. The story really is of massive importance. Let's understand what's going on here. In this case, an individual identified as a transgender man . . . let's just remind ourselves to keep sane and clear here, this is someone who was born a woman. More importantly for the story, this is someone who was born a woman and gave birth to a baby, keep that in mind. The article tells us, "A transgender man in Britain lost an appeal on Wednesday to be registered as his son's father rather than mother on the child's birth certificate. He now wants to take his case to the Supreme Court."

Now, we often have to point out that if you just take that paragraph and you try to place it in any previous decade in human existence, it would make no sense at all. You have the identification of this individual as a transgender man who gave birth to a baby. The fundamental reality, let's just remind ourselves, is that a female gives birth. A female, and only a female, has the capacity to become pregnant, to carry the gestating baby and then to give birth. Mothers give birth, fathers do not give birth. Regardless of what society may decree, naming someone a father or a mother as legal fiction, the reality is mothers give birth, fathers do not.

Magra's story continues in the Times, "The man, Freddy McConnell, a freelance writer based in Kent, England, gave birth to a son in 2018, the year after obtaining a gender recognition certificate confirming him as male. But when he sought to register the birth, the register office told him that he had to be recorded as his son's mother." Again, the pronouns will drive you to absolute distraction.

But there's something else here. We are told that the birth of this baby came after this individual had obtained a "gender recognition certificate confirming him as male." The interesting word here is “confirming.” In general vocabulary usage, “confirming” would mean to establish that something is really true, but in this case it doesn't even pretend to mean that. It doesn't mean that after some kind of physical examination, it was discovered that this individual is actually a male. What it means is that the court, representing the larger society, has decided to conspire in establishing a fiction that this individual is a male, even though a year after this so-called confirmation, this individual the court said is a male gave birth to a baby. Meaning, guess what that confirmed? That confirms the individual is a female.

But as much as at this point the story is clearly of importance as we think about the revolution in sexuality and gender that has taken place in our recent times, we also have to consider that there's something even more fundamental here and that is the fact that it has been an established reality in Western law that a child has an absolute right, where possible, to know the identity of the child's mother. That's another basic feature of Western law. When you think about it, it takes us back to where we were with asking the question, how many children has Boris Johnson fathered? It is established that the child, given the child's own needs and a fundamental need for identity, has a fundamental right to know who was the child's mother. As we said, looking to Pitirim Sorokin, it is also very important that the child have access to knowing who the child's father is and that the father take responsibility.

The issue here is not that the woman who gave birth to this baby doesn't want to take responsibility. The issue here is that the woman now claims to be a man and claims that a court has confirmed the individual as male and now demands to be identified on the birth certificate of the baby, not as mother, but as father. I use the word “massive” in discussing the significance of this story. I think most people look at it and think, "Well, there's just another salacious rather sensationalistic headline coming out of the moral revolution. It's this today is going to be something else tomorrow." But that's not why we're looking at it. We're looking at it because this is actually trying to turn the entire world upside down saying that it is no longer even the right of an individual to know the identity of the person's mother. That's astounding. It is fundamentally, as I say, to turn the world upside down.

Now we have the demand coming from this individual who gave birth to this baby that the individual be listed as father rather than mother, and that's on an established legal record that will exist so long as those records are accessible. What it means is it will be impossible for anyone looking at legal records to know who anyone's mother was or for that matter anyone's father was because the courts, having bended the knee to the insanity of the moral and gender revolutionaries, are saying, "We're going to let words like ‘male’ and ‘female’ disappear from any objective reality. Mother and father will now be legal fictions." The problem is, of course, it's not a legal fiction to the baby. Others have pointed out there are even medical rationales for needing to know the identity of mother and father simply even to understand the context of genetics, likelihood of certain disease, patterns of all kinds of things that could have medical significance. You are now robbing children of even the ability to know how they came to be in the first place, and even something as fundamental as, “Who was my mother?”

Back when I reported on this story first, last Fall, the judge was Sir Andrew McFarland. He had dismissed the individual's application for judicial review and he made the argument, "Being a mother, whilst hitherto always associated with being female, is the status afforded to a person who undergoes the physical and biological process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth." He went on to say as judge, "It is now medically and legally possible for an individual whose gender is recognized in law as male to become pregnant and give birth to their child. But," he said, "despite that, what continues is the biological role in giving birth, which is that of mother." Now you might say that the judge's original ruling was this individual might have been male defined by a court for a year before the birth and might be male now after the birth, but in so far as the individual gave birth to a baby, in so doing, that individual was a mother and not a father. I feel like I'm in the middle of a Dr. Seuss story.

It's also interesting that the plaintiff in this case had made the argument that refusing to list the individual who was mother as father, violated the rights of the baby. The plaintiff's attorney has pledged to try to seek an appeal all the way to Britain's Supreme Court. Don't be surprised if the individual loses there that there will be a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. This is the world we now live in.

By the way, I just have to mention in this article if you heard it, you have to love the formality of the British courts and the language used by British judges in this case. I go back to the sentence, just listen to this: "being a mother, whilst hitherto always associated with being female, is the status afforded to a person who undergoes the physical and biological process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth."

“Whilst hitherto,” the sad thing there is that the language represents an age that no longer exists. The court is using language that is archaic now. But more tragically, the problem is that in our contemporary age, it is the morality that Western society was based upon that is now discarded as archaic.

Part

U.S. Marriage Rate Hits an All-Time Low: There’s a Lot More Going On Here Than Economics

But next, coming back to the United States, the recognition that the moral revolution is fully underway here, Janet Adamy for the Wall Street Journal offered a story in yesterday's print edition with a headline, “Marriage Rate Plunges to Lowest Level on Record.” Adamy writes, "The share of Americans getting married has fallen to its lowest level on record according to government figures released Wednesday that reflect how economic insecurity and changing norms are eroding the institution. The U.S. marriage rate fell 6% in 2018 with 6.5 new unions for every 1000 people, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics." As the Journal tells us, "That was the lowest rate since the federal government began keeping data in 1867." That according to Sally Curtin identified as the statistician at the center and lead author of the report. Curtin said, "Millennials are in peak marriage years, their twenties and thirties, and it's still dropping. This is historic."

Adamy then tells us the new report shows how marriage rates plunged near the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s, then rebounded sharply after World War II, hitting a high of 16.4 marriages per 1000 people in 1946. She then tells us, "The marriage rate began a near steady decline in 1982 that lasted until 2009, then remained near flat before inching upward in 2014." But when you're looking at a 6% drop, it didn't inch downward in the last year, that is a lot more than an inch. Looking at the article and at the underlying research from the National Center for Health Statistics, one thing becomes clear, the explanation here really cannot be economic, it has to be moral. Now, at every turn in the article in the Wall Street Journal and also in the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, there's an effort to put economics and morality together, but it simply doesn't really make sense.

At the beginning of the article we're told that the decline in birth rate in 2018 reflects "how economic insecurity and changing norms are eroding the institution." Economic issues are also cited later in the article and then we read "declining religious adherence and growing acceptance of unmarried co-habitation have also played a role." Why does the economic explanation not make sense? Well, it's because Americans have found ways to have babies under far worse economic conditions than what the United States experienced in 2018. For one thing, in 2018 there was an economic boom in the United States. Of course, that is not evenly distributed, no boom has ever evenly distributed. And it is true that many millennials are not going to have as much financial security or standing as their parents, that's an issue to be debated elsewhere, but the reality is that it has to be morality that is the biggest explanation here because it is the morality that has changed more than anything else, certainly changed more than the economic conditions.

So yes, going back to the lead paragraph in the article, it has to be changing norms, that means moral norms, that are the biggest explanation. Furthermore, the explanation given in the Journal, "Declining religious adherence and growing acceptance of unmarried co-habitation have also played a role." Indeed, of course, they have. The whole point is the marginalization of marriage. And so on this side of the Atlantic, we returned to the same issue with which we began on the other side of the Atlantic, in which case the British prime minister is celebrating the birth of a baby boy and the boy being born to a woman to whom he is not yet married.

And then in the United States, the announcement that for so long as the federal government has kept marriage records going back to 1867, America in 2018 hit the lowest marriage rate ever. That's ever as in ever. That means a lower marriage rate than during the Great Depression. So much for the economic explanation.

These vast changes in norms, in morality have enormous consequences. It tells us something that at the end of the article in the Journal, there has to be something of a case made for marriage. Listen to this, "Marriage is correlated with positive health outcomes, longevity, and economic security." And so there are at least three good reasons to get married, says the Journal, reminding the American people better health outcomes, longevity, and economic security. Indeed, those are goods that come with marriage, but Christians understand they are goods that come with marriage because marriage is a fundamental good. But given the changing moral structure of the United States in recent years, making that argument in public, though it's obvious, is dangerous.

Part

75th Anniversary of the Death of Adolf Hitler: Does a Secular World Find Moral Certainty in Hitler as Antitype?

But as this week comes to an end, let's reflect upon the fact that it was 75 years ago this week that the greatest symbol of evil in the 20th century, Adolf Hitler, the dictator of the Third Reich in Germany, committed suicide in the so-called Führerbunker in Berlin as Soviet troops and allies began to encircle Berlin and to come into the city. He committed suicide along with his wife of about one day, Eva Braun. It is believed that their bodies were buried on the grounds of the Reich Chancellery there in Berlin. It brought to an end one of the most horrifying lives in all of human history.

But the 75th anniversary of Hitler's suicide reminds me of a conversation I had this week with Alec Ryrie. Professor Ryrie teaches history at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. He's the author of the new book, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt. I'll be releasing a Thinking in Public conversation about this book with Professor Ryrie next week.

But the important issue I raise today is the fact that at the end of his book he points out that the secularizing of our age is understood in the fact that most people living today in the Western world have one great moral symbol. It is no longer the positive moral symbol of Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. It is now the negative moral symbol of Adolf Hitler. It's a fascinating argument that bears attention as we think the effects of secularization in the world around us. I think you'll enjoy that conversation. Again, we will release it next week as the latest edition of Thinking in Public.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Let me just remind you that I'm going to be teaching a special course that can be taken for either undergraduate or graduate credit in the special summer term beginning on May the 11th here at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. The name of the class is Special Studies in Theology, but let me tell you what we're going to be doing. We're going to be looking at so many of the big questions that we now face and we're going to be looking at the underlying theological structure. We're going to be learning anew how to think theologically in what we now know to be a secular age. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to teaching it. For more information, just go to our website at sbts.edu/summer.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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