briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, May 8, 2020

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

It’s Friday, May 8, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Widening Gap Between Republicans and Democrats Isn’t Just Political, It’s Theological: Why Theology Determines Politics

We do our best as Christians to try to understand the world around us. It’s a world that’s very complex. It’s a world that we know is even now in the process of radical, moral, and societal change. We want to look beneath the surface and understand the changes in the tectonic plates, we might say, of the culture that provide us understanding of how we are as Christians to respond to the world as it is and as it is becoming. This means that of course we pay a lot of attention to politics, trying to watch the world of politics because in politics all the major issues of life are eventually disclosed.

We’re seeing a very interesting story, a very interesting pattern, develop when it comes to politics in the United States right now. It has to do with what Christians should both anticipate and uniquely understand, and that is the collision of theology and politics in a very volatile but revealing way. Thomas B. Edsall, reporter for the New York Times recently talked about major new research indicating what he described as a “steady religious realignment” that has reshaped the American electorate. In particular given the data he spoke of the reshaping of the white American electorate, and he went on to say that this pattern is now “turning religious conviction or its absence into a clear signal of where voters stand in the culture wars.”

The next paragraph is this, “As mainstream Protestant denominations have declined over the past half century, there has been a hollowing out of the center among white Christians of all faiths. New generations of Americans have joined the ranks of evangelical churches while others in larger numbers have forsaken religion altogether.” He concludes, “These two trends have transformed the strategic underpinnings of political campaigning.” Well, more to that in just a moment, but let’s just back up and say on one hand there’s no news here. This is not the news the headline would indicate. You don’t have to have particularly recent research in order to discern this pattern. It has been documented now over a course of decades.

Going back at least 10 years, you have research coming out from figures such as Robert Putnam of Harvard University indicating that finding out whether a voter had attended church the Sunday before the vote is the leading indicator of how that voter would vote and did vote, that with particular reference to presidential campaigns. But as you’re looking at the situation now, the point that is rightly observed by Thomas B. Edsall is that the pattern is becoming ever clearer almost every single day. The bottom line and the pattern is this, and I’m going to go to Edsall’s text, “The more religiously engaged a white voter is, the more likely he or she will be a Republican. The less religious the voter, the more likely to be a Democrat.”

But he went on to say, “As we shall see, it’s not that simple. The deeper you go, the more complex it gets.” Well, in a sense, yes, but in a sense, no. Actually the deeper you go, it just becomes far more clear why it is so. But there are a couple of very interesting twists in the developments of recent years.

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University is cited in the article as having tracked religious trends for the past 30 years using data from the General Social Survey. Edsall goes on to tell us according to this research that in 1988, 55.7% of Americans were members of traditional mainstream denominations, 36.6% were members of evangelical and born again denominations, and 7.7% said they were not religious.

Remember, that’s ‘88, so right at about 30 years ago. 30 years ago, what did the picture look like? More than half of all white Americans indicated that they were members of some kind of main line denomination. Then you had almost 40% who identified as evangelical “born again” denominations. You’ll notice the awkwardness of the secular press even now trying to discuss classical Christians who after all believe in conversion. But less than 10% identified as non-religious. But fast forward 30 years, from 1988 to 2018, what do we find? “Membership in traditional denomination has fallen 20 points to 35.5%. Born again, evangelical church membership has grown by 4.8 points to 41.4% and the share of the non-religious has tripled to 23.1%.”

But what’s really, really interesting is the statement made by Ryan Burge in the next paragraph who warned, according to the language of the New York Times, “That in just a few years there will be no moderate Protestants left.” Now that raises an immediate question. What does he mean by moderate Protestants? Does it mean moderate in some sense theologically or does he mean moderate politically? Probably there is some mixture of the two, but it appears to be that moderate politically is the dominant category here. That is made clear when in the next paragraph we read, “As Burge writes, almost every predominantly white Protestant denomination from Southern Baptists and United Methodists to Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Assemblies of God is solidly Republican.”

So there we are talking about politics, but wait just a minute, we’re also talking about theology because at least when he mentioned the Southern Baptist and the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the assemblies of God, you aren’t talking about generally very conservative denominations when it comes to theology. Again, what’s the Christian worldview link? When you’re talking theology and you’re talking politics, the common link is worldview. The theology eventually determines the politics.

But at this point the story gets even more interesting as the New York Times tells us, “Among the 20 largest white Protestant denominations, just two became less Republican in a statistically significant way in the last 10 years,” again that according to Ryan Burge. Using Burges language, sixteen of these denominations have larger shares of Republicans today than they did when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. The New York Times then tells us, “Republicans have even made gains in relatively liberal denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the American Baptist Churches.” Now that is explosive. That’s unexpected.

We’re being told here that even in the more traditionally liberal Protestant denominations, and let’s be candid theologically, they tend to be very liberal. They’re also becoming increasingly Republican. How is that happening? Well, it’s happening, I would offer, because of a fundamentally theological rather than political explanation, and that is that if you are a theist, you believe in God, and if you have any association whatsoever with any version of historic Christianity of any link at all, then you’re going to tend to be more Republican than Democratic on the political spectrum because these days it doesn’t take much theology to make you far too theological for the Democratic party.

In an article by Ryan Burge himself published months ago at Religion News, he asked the question as to whether or not more white Protestants, regardless of theological identification, were likely to become Republican. In essence, he says probably not, but the reason is, “In large part because most white Protestants are already Republicans.”

The article written by Burge includes a chart at Religion News Service that really is fascinating. It’s a bar chart, denomination by denomination, showing the relative strength of Democratic registration versus Republican registration, again, denomination by denomination. Red is Republican as is now traditional and these kinds of graphics and maps, Blue is Democratic and the most important impression from looking at the chart is across the board, it’s a lot more red than it is blue. Again, the research by Ryan Burge indicates that when you are looking at the liberal denominations, they are actually more Republican now than they were under the administration of President Barack Obama. What does that tell us? It tells us that the issues are now getting very tight. The political tension is very high, and the people who are left, even in those mainline liberal Protestant denominations, they are at least at this point, sufficiently theistic and sufficiently identified with some form of Christian heritage that they are still more theological than the growth curve in the Democratic party, which is overwhelmingly secular.

I’ve been following this research for years now very, very closely. I am seldom surprised, but I have to admit, this research has surprised me. I would not have expected that in denominations as liberal as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, you’re talking about denominations that are so far on the theological left, they generally don’t require any kind of theism, but you are looking at the fact that nonetheless they’re becoming more Republican. I think it comes down to the fact that if you believe in any kind of theistic referent or authority at all, you’re on the more Republican side of the worldview divide in American politics today.

The article by Edsall recently at the New York Times also cites Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, he gives us the data that in the 2018 House Democratic vote, that is the winning majority Democratic vote for the House of Representatives, when you look at white college graduates for whom religion is not at all important, the vote for the Democrats was 91%. You’re talking about an overwhelming vote. It’s a very secular vote. It’s an extremely liberal vote. But for those who said, religion is very important, 30% voted Democrat, that’s a 61 point gap. 61 points that are separating there the vote.

The article by Edsall also cites a political scientist at Boston College, David Hopkins, who has been looking at religious affiliation and degrees of religiosity as are applied to partisan identification and choice of candidates. He has found a 40 point gap that equals the magnitude “of the more longstanding difference in the partisan preferences of whites and African Americans.” As the research by Hopkins indicates, white evangelical Protestants prefer the Republican party by a margin of 68% to 22% while “religiously unaffiliated voters” now lean toward the Democrats by 61% to 25%. Notice how close those margins are. It really does come down to a 40 point gap. That’s massive.

With 2020 being a presidential election year and these issues looming so large, we’ll be taking even a closer look at much of this research and at the patterns in weeks and months to come. But at this point in May of 2020, it’s just vitally important that we recognize that these patterns are accelerating right before our eyes. The gap is becoming even larger. We’re seeing it across the political landscape and again, we’ll be looking at it even more closely. The worldview implications as you can well understand are simply massive.

Part II

The Propaganda of the LGBTQ Movement Shows Up in an Obituary in the New York Times: Influential Researcher Richard Friedman Dies

As the week comes to an end, I want to note an obituary that ran earlier this week also in the New York Times. The obituary is by Kim Severson. The headline: “Richard Friedman, 79, Who Debunked Myths on Homosexuality Dies.” Very interesting. The New York Times is a newspaper that runs an inordinate number of articles on LGBT issues across the waterfront of those issues and is avowedly positive about the entire range of activism associated with those letters. They nonetheless are running this as an obituary. The fact that the obituary is so large and prominent should have our attention.

Severson writes, “In the 1980s, when marriage and adopting children seemed impossible dreams for gay men, the psychoanalyst Richard C. Friedman became their champion. His 1988 book Male Homosexuality: A Contemporary Psychoanalytic Perspective, showed that sexual orientation was largely biological and presented a case that helped undermine the belief held by most Freudian analysts at the time that homosexuality was a pathology that could somehow be cured.”

Now, one of the things we need to train ourselves to do when we observe some kind of media coverage, especially when we look at an article like this in a major newspaper, we need to look closely and see what is said in the lede—the way, that is spelled L-E-D-E, when it comes to the lead paragraph in a news article. In the lede, there is enough there according to both the reporter and the editor to have a chance of getting our attention. In this case we are being told that this man whose obituary is now printed in the New York Times was successful in showing, that’s the verb that is used here, “showed,” that sexual orientation was largely biological. Now let me back up and say, actually the research proves shows no such thing.

Now the reason I’m saying that is because it has become widely accepted across the United States, across our cultural understanding that homosexuality used to be considered merely a choice and is now considered to be, well, deeply rooted in biology or something. But as you’re looking at this, you need to recognize that the reason the view of Americans has been so changed on this issue has to do with the way a lot of the research, and I’m tempted to put that word research in some kind of quotation marks, has been presented to the American people. For one thing, many years ago, the researcher Dean Hammer produced research indicating that he had proved the existence of a so-called gay gene, but there was no backup research to validate that conclusion.

This New York Times obituary celebrates the late Dr. Richard Friedman as having shown that sexual orientation was largely biological. I’m saying that’s not true. He did not show any such thing. He did raise patterns in research including biological factors that were used in the transformation of the American Medical Society, and by that I mean the society of doctors writ large and most importantly by the American Psychiatric Association. The research was used by those organizations in order to justify a complete 180 degree turn when it came to the understanding of homosexuality.

But in a process I’ve traced in my book, We Cannot Be Silent, published just a few years ago, it was an intensely political process and we know that because the people who were at the center of the story indicated just how political it was. Political pressure brought on groups of the American Psychiatric Association and along the same time the American Psychological Association, but you’ll notice how affected the propaganda is on this, so much so that it shows up in this obituary. If it is true that Dr. Friedman showed that sexual orientation was largely biological, then what is the biological explanation? The fact is there isn’t one and there’s no actual argument for one. It’s an argument from patterns, and by the way, no intelligent, intellectually honest Christian should deny those patterns. There are bigger issues here, but one of the things to note is that even in an obituary, the culture war goes on—an effort to try to remind Americans, oh, this is what we know. American Christians need to stop for a minute and think, wait a minute, do we really know that at all?

There’s another aspect in this obituary that’s absolutely fascinating. There are two alternative views about the origin and explanation of male homosexuality in this article. There is the so-called biological view presented by the psychiatrist, psychoanalyst Richard Friedman, and then there is the Freudian view. You’ll notice what’s completely absent from the entire perspective here and that would be say, an historic Christian view. Here you have just two plausible views presented, the Freudian and you might say the new one promoted by Richard Friedman. That’s the whole point of the obituary. This is where Christians have to pause for a moment and say, “Wait a minute. We never signed on to the Freudian understanding of homosexuality.”

Later in the obituary Severson writes, “Although the American Psychiatric Association, the dominant mental health organization in the United States, changed its diagnostic manual in 1973 and stopped classifying homosexuality as an illness, psychoanalysts continued to describe homosexuality as a perversion and many believed it could be cured.” The big issue here is as the article says that Friedman’s research and argument “led to a model in which analyst and patient simply assumed that homosexuality was intrinsic.” Well, they pretty much gave away the store with that argument. They gave their argument away. They are admitting here as is recorded in the New York Times that the analyst and the patient “simply assumed that homosexuality was intrinsic.”

Once again, what we see here is that it’s presented in the lede paragraph as biology and science, but when it comes down to it, it’s really more an act of the will when it comes to making the argument. But let me back up for just a moment and say Richard Friedman deserves this scale of obituary in the New York Times because he was that influential. But I’m saying that as one who does not agree with his research, not to mention the argument he was making, but nonetheless, I want to say that as one who has followed these issues very and written about them for decades, his influence is simply vast.

Well, where does a biblically minded Christian come down on this? We’re not Freudians and we’re not we might say Friedmanists, so where do we come down? Well, we come down on a biblical explanation for all sin, a biblical explanation for all human brokenness and a biblical understanding of sexuality and gender and all the rest. Our effort must be to be ruthlessly, rigorously faithful to Scripture. The biblical worldview comes down to reminding us of the deepest meaning of human sinfulness, and that tells us that our sinfulness is shot through the entire cosmos. The entire cosmos is corrupted by sin and the biblical worldview tells us that, yes, we should expect to find the corruption of sin showing up all over the cosmos, and yes, that includes in biology, in genes, by the way.

For one thing, our genetic structure as a result of Adam’s sin and the fall, or as the Bible would say, our sin in Adam, our federal head, our genetic code was changed such that at that moment of Adam’s sin, death entered into human existence. The Bible is extremely crystal clear when it comes to our individual responsibility for sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is falling short of God’s glory. It is violating his law. It is anything contrary to his will and we as human beings bear full responsibility individually for our law breaking.

But the Christian worldview based in Scripture also affirms that there are precognitive or even pre-experiential roots of sin. Sin is so pervasive, its affects are so deep and sin is so deceptive that not one sinner knows even why he or she is tempted to sin in one way or the other at the deepest level. We do not have that kind of comprehensive knowledge of ourselves. What we do have is an adequate knowledge to know our moral responsibility and what Christians also know even more fundamentally is the power of the gospel. When we are asked, can a sinner change? The answer is yes, the sinner can change. But we’re not looking to Freud or Freudian psychoanalysis or any form of analysis or psychology or psychiatry or therapy or medicine or a pill or anything else to bring about the change that is necessary within us. We are looking to Christ and to Christ alone and the promise that in Christ we become a new creature.

That does not mean in this life that all of our struggles to sin go away, but it does mean that we are now united to Christ and we are not united to sin. But the bottom line for Christians is understanding that when it comes to sin, we look to the Scripture as our authority and to nothing else, including biology or any other science or psychoanalysis.

Part III

A Moment We Dare Not Forget: The 75th Anniversary of VE Day

But next, as do look at sin, we have to consider that today, this day is the 75th anniversary of VE day, Victory in Europe day. 75 years ago, three quarters of a century ago, there was the formal declaration of victory in Europe, the formal declaration by the Allied command that the Axis powers, most importantly, the high command of Nazi Germany had signed an unconditional surrender bringing World War II in Europe to an end, a horrifying end, a final end.

The unconditional surrender of all Nazi military forces was signed at 2:41 AM on the 7th of May, 1945, by Nazi general Alfred Jodl. It was announced more than 24 hours later by agreement of the Allied powers as VE Day on May the 8th. The act of military surrender that the defeated Nazi regime was required to sign came down to 234 words in five paragraphs. The signing of the surrender came in the city of Reims and it came at 2:41 AM as I said on the 7th and it came as Nazi Germany was completely encircled by Allied forces, the Soviet Union coming from the East and the other allies coming from the West. It was no accident that the first surrender came in the West because the Nazi regime wanted at all costs to surrender to the Americans and the British wherever possible because they knew full well what would happen to them at the hands of the Russians.

There’s so much here, but one of the most interesting aspects is the unconditional surrender. It was at the Casa Blanca conference of the Western allied leaders, including President Roosevelt that was held in January of 1943 that Roosevelt insisted and the other Allies agreed that Nazi Germany must be forced to surrender unconditionally. That phrase, “unconditional surrender” has a long lineage in American military history going back most particularly to the Civil War. In the battle of Fort Donelson in the year 1862, Federal general Ulysses S. Grant required an unconditional Southern surrender. That means that the vanquished give up their arms, they give up their horses, they give up their tanks, they walk away and accept whatever terms are set by the victors.

One little footnote here, that means that Grant did not require an unconditional surrender of the Confederate forces under command of Robert E. Lee because those officers were allowed to keep their horses and to keep their side arms. It was not unconditional. But President Roosevelt was absolutely right and with him was the British prime minister, Winston Churchill. The surrender must be unconditional, and that is because the Nazi regime represented the absolute political incarnation of evil to an extent unimaginable before its emergence. Of course, you not only had Hitler and all the killing apparatus of the Third Reich, you not only had all the lies, you also had the Holocaust, the institutionalization of genocide and mass murder. Roosevelt was absolutely right. The surrender must be unconditional.

The Nazi regime did not surrender until the very end. It didn’t come until Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his bunker. It didn’t come until the absolute vanquishing of Nazi Germany was clear. It didn’t come until Alfred Jodl and others in the Nazi high command wormed their way to the city of Reims in order to find the Americans and the British to surrender, knowing that there was no alternative. It is poignant to consider just how few alive on that day 75 years ago are alive now. One of those alive now is Gregory Melikian. He’s 97 years old. He was one of three telegraph operators working for general Dwight David Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Western forces when Eisenhower needed to communicate to the Allied high command the German unconditional surrender. He was 20 years old.

Speaking of himself and his fellow operators for Eisenhower, Melikian said, “We were across the hall from the war room where the German surrender was signed by the German general Alfred Jodl. There was a guy from Texas aged 36, another guy from South Carolina, 27 or 28, and yours truly. Eisenhower’s exact words were, ‘I want Melikian to send this coded message and talk about it for the rest of his life.’” The message was only 74 words long, but it told the Allied high command that the war was over.

It was at 4:45 AM local time when General Omar Bradley was awakened by the phone ringing by his bed. We are told that he had a pistol by his pillow and the windows in his quarters were covered by blackout curtains. He was in command of more than 1 million American soldiers. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was on the line. His voice came on and he simply said, “Brad, it’s all over.” Bradley rose from his bed and went over to a map of the war front and simply wrote, “D +335,” D-day plus 335 days. By the time both theaters of the war were combined, the Allies had lost 16 million in military casualties. The Axis had lost 8 million military casualties. But it is estimated that more than 100 million human beings died as a direct result of World War II. The course of human history, indeed, the future of human history came down to whether or not the right side won in that great war, and the right side did. Thanks be to God.

It’s one of those moments we dare not forget, 75 years later on May the 8th, 2020.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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