briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, June 25, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, June 25, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Identity Politics on Full Display: When Pride Month Intersects with Other Identity Markers Across Major Media Headlines

Intersections are very interesting. And as we think about intersections in our culture today, one of the most interesting intersections is the current cultural conversation about race as it intersects with Pride Month. That is the month of June and the LGBTQ movement. Now, one evidence of that intersection is the fact that major newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, particularly USA Today, seem to be running article after article after article, not only on the issues of race and not only on the LGBTQ issues, but in particular articles about those who are both African American and identify as LGBTQ. But even then, it’s not just LGBTQ, it’s particularly the T. It is particularly the transgender part of LGBTQ. Now, why is that the case? Why are we looking at this very interesting intersection happening right now?

Well, the urgency on the racial issues was not on the calendar. It’s not connected to a scheduled observance of black pride or any particular concern about racism. It was prompted by headlines. Most importantly, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer, or more specifically, as the police officer had his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. That became the catalyst for a larger explosion in the society that continues an urgent conversation about issues related to race, racism, and the entire political reality in the United States. But Pride Month was on the calendar already. And in particular, that means what used to be called Gay Pride, but is now LGBTQ Pride, and as we always have to say, just wait until those letters are joined by yet others. But as you’re looking at this, the major media are considering, “Well, we do have this intersection. So let’s look at these issues together.” The interesting question is why the T in LGBTQ has such prominence, but that requires us to look at another intersection. Indeed, the idea of intersectionality.

Now we’ve talked about it before. Intersectionality goes hand in hand with the modern variants of identity politics. Identity politics goes back to the basic cultural preoccupation in so much of the Western nations that would include Western Europe and the United States with personal autonomy and political identity. And those political identity markers now are used in order to explain the entire process of politics, economics, and culture as a war of rival identities. Those identities reduced to politics means identity politics.

Now immediately, we have a huge problem. The big by the way is not so much with the politics first, but with the identity. We as Christians operating out of a biblical worldview, understand that our identity can never be primarily designated by means of anything such as race and culture or politics or economics. The elevation of any of these issues was only made possible by the recession of the Christian worldview in the larger society, the eclipse of a basic Christian impulse in the light of a growing secularization. And that secularization has gone hand in hand with the influence of the cultural left, both in Europe and in United States. Identity politics is what is left when a biblical conception of humanity disappears. And of course, let’s just remind ourselves that we understand our identity, not to be something that we assign ourselves, but rather what is assigned to us by our Creator who has the sovereign right to declare who we are. And most importantly, what he declares is that every single human being, male and female, is made in his image and belongs, therefore, first and foremost to him.

Then we understand our commonality as all human beings, descending from Adam and Eve, which means that ultimately we are all brothers and sisters. We have that common identity with all of humanity in Adam. We have a common identity amongst all other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, in Christ. That is to say our identity is with all humanity in Adam. Our identity is with every other Christian believer in Christ. That has to be our main understanding of identity and that is deeply rooted in the Bible and in the logic of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But if you’re not operating out of a biblical or theological understanding of identity, then you’re going to shift to some kind of substitute. And that substitute is often going to be deadly. During the 20th century, there were two particularly dangerous alternatives to a Christian conception of identity. One was nationalism. And by nationalism in this sense, we mean, an idolatrous nationalism, such as we saw in fascism and particularly in the atrocities of the Third Reich, the pretensions of the Third Reich demonstrating that form of toxic nationalism.

But we also have to understand that the rise of ideologies in the 20th century also provided a form of identity and thus translated into identity politics. But the outworking of that identity politics now comes down to intersectionality. The logic, let’s just remind ourselves, is fascinating. The logic is this: If the main dynamic, the only dynamic that matters is oppression versus liberation, and if we identify the groups or the identities that tend to suffer oppression more than others, then you will look at historic patterns and you will say that this group has been oppressed and that group has been oppressed and that group has been oppressed. And sometimes by the way, you’re about very real injustices. Sometimes you’re not, but in any event, you come up with this equation of oppression. But the complication is there are some individuals who are by the designation of identity politics identified with more than one of those groups.

So just for example, if you’re talking about an African American as a minority in the United States, that is a stamp of identity politics. And then you consider the fact that say, being gay or a gay male is another form of designation by identity politics. And then you just go down the list, but just take those two. So you have the intersection of being both an African American and a gay man.

But on the other hand, there are women. Now you have someone who is a woman and an African American. Again, two identity markers. The intersection between the two means that this individual it is claimed is even more oppressed because not only is she a woman, but she is an African American woman, but you can understand where the logic of this goes. Let’s say that that African American woman also identifies as a lesbian or as transgender. In any event, the point is multiple marks of identity and multiple identity markers, they come together at the intersection of being, say, African American and gay and female and transgender—you go down the list—that’s all part of the politics of what’s going on in America right now. And that’s one of the reasons why, if you look at USA Today, that bills itself as the nation’s newspaper mainstream America, you will notice that there have been over half a dozen articles, just over the course of the last few days, all relating to June as Pride Month in which there’s an inordinate attention not only to LGBTQ, but to African American LGBTQ intersections. And in particular, African-American T intersections, transgender.

Now, what would be the justification for that on an editor’s desk? Well, it comes down to this: If you are operating from this kind of oppression mentality and you are operating from identity politics, and if you add intersectionality to the mix, well then the transgender in LGBTQ, it is argued even in that movement, has been particularly marginalized and thus must be given additional opportunity for voice and attention and public observation. Well, that’s exactly what’s going on here. And so you have article after article, after article.

But even in just the last few days in the major media, it has exploded even further. You have an article by the way, in Monday’s edition of USA Today, it’s by Charlotte Clymer. The headline: “What Life Is Like as a Transgender Woman.” Again, that’s about half the print edition page of Monday’s edition of USA Today.

The New York Times has an article headlined, “Transgender Lives as Seen on Screen.” The subhead: “Artists Discuss the Depictions That Made an Impact on Them.” Sunday’s edition of the New York Times has an article on the front page of the review section by Thomas Page McBee. The headline: “Pride Re-Imagined.” But in this case, the author is talking about a particular form of transgender identity. Then just a few pages separate, another article with a headline: “Will They Be Left Behind as the Virus Rages? Transgender People Fear the Worst.”

Again, looking at the intersection in this case of African American and transgender, a headline on the same page, “Andrea Jenkins Is Somber, But Optimistic.” The subhead: “The Transgender Minneapolis Council Woman Talks about Racial Equity and Where We Go from Here.”

But then just about the same time, we have an article that appeared in The Guardian, that’s a major London newspaper, about the fact that the literary agency that has been representing JK Rowling is now experiencing the fact that many of his clients are leaving and making a political splash as they do in protest of the fact that Rowling had made statements to the effect that transgender rights were encroaching upon the rights of women and that a transgender woman, using that terminology, is not actually a woman. And you’ll notice here it is not that they’re separating themselves from Rowling directly, but even from the literary agency that is connected with her. That tells you something about how moral revolutions are pushed and the form of cultural coercion that comes with it. It’s now not enough not to be JK Rowling. It’s not enough not to agree with JK Rowling. If you want to be culturally acceptable, you can’t even be represented by the same literary agency.

Part II

Separating Sex from Gender: Nothing Less Than What It Means to Be Human Is at Stake

But there’s one article above all others that deserves our attention. It indeed demands it. It was published yesterday in The New York Times with the headline: “Sex Does Not Mean Gender. Equating Them Erases Trans Lives.” It’s by Devin Michelle Bunten, who’s identified as an assistant professor of urban economics and housing at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s a very influential institution. This article really does tell us a very great deal. Bunten begins her article in The New York Times with language I cannot repeat on The Briefing, but I can jump later in the article and get right to the point. She is arguing that sex should not be equated with gender. Now that’s a central argument, not only of the gender feminists, but in particular of the transgender revolutionaries. They argue that gender is a socially constructed reality that doesn’t have to do anything, specifically, is not tied integrally to biological sex.

Now, we all recognize that certain notions of masculine and feminine are culturally constructed. We understand that, but we also understand the fact that as Christians operating out of a biblical worldview, the basic reality is not socially constructed. The basic reality is a part of God’s creation. The basic reality is indeed tied integrally and inseparably from biology. But you’ll see exactly where Devin Michelle Bunten is going in this article when the author writes, “Sex is a biological framework, a panoply of possibility on its own. Sex needs precise words like ‘male’ and ‘female’ and ‘intersex’ to describe the origins, components, and functions of bodies. But we can’t maintain this precision,” says the author, “if we use words about sex to describe gender, the social and political roles and possibilities we take on as women, as men, as something else or none of the above.”

Again, just in the course of human history, millennia of human history, there never has been a category in major cultural conversation, such as something else or none of the above. And throughout that same human history, the entirety of it, male has meant man, and female has meant woman. But you come to understand how comprehensive the revolution is when this author writes, “A full embrace of this new trans reality will mean leaving behind old vocabularies. Some changes are simple. We can speak of trans mothers and brothers and siblings as easily as of any other family member. Others are more contested. ‘They’ as a singular pronoun is not without its detractors Shakespeare aside, and,” says Bunten, “some words will need to be reconfigured entirely.” I’m not going to use all the words she uses next, but the interesting thing is that the author is arguing that the term “feminine products” no longer fits humanity.

The most important section of this article is where the author says, “Stop using male and female to refer to men and women. In fact, stop using sex-based words to refer to people at all. They’re words for bodies, not for people with hearts and souls and minds.” Now, the author continues the argument from there, but we should be alert to what has just happened in that sentence. Because right there, we come to understand that as we analyze this by a Christian biblical worldview, there’s more at stake here than even just gender and sex. What it means to be male and female. And at stake here is what it means to be human. Because here is something extremely illuminating that comes in the form of this article and in that specific sentence. I go back to where the author writes that we should stop using the words, “male” and “female,” because, “They’re words for bodies, not for people with hearts and souls and minds.”

Now, this is where for the Christian, the theological alarms need to be going off loudly. It is because central to the Christian biblical worldview is what we as theologians call the psychosomatic unity. That is that God made us as souls and bodies, but he made us as individuals who are soul and who are body and who do not know ourselves disembodied as a soul. We don’t know ourselves embodied without a soul. We have a unity because God made us in his image this way. Stamping us in his image, he made us spiritual creatures and gave us a particular vocation or responsibility in creation. But we are not souls trapped in a body. We are not a body that is holding onto a soul. We are a body, soul combination, made that way by the Creator for his glory and they are inseparable except during that period between when we die and the day of resurrection. The Scripture says at that point, we are absent from the body as believers, but present with the Lord.

But other than that, both in our earthly lives and in our glorified bodies for eternity in the kingdom of Christ, we will be that psychosomatic unity. Our spiritual self, our soul, and our body will be united and indivisible. We don’t know ourselves except as embodied souls. We know who we are as God made us, precisely because God made us as a body. Our body is indeed a form of revelation about who God made us to be.

Notice, that truth is what is precisely rejected in this article. It’s not an accident, but it’s extremely revealing. What we see here is the fact that to join the transgender revolution, to join in its logic, you actually have to depart not only from a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood of even being male and female—as you see right there in Genesis 1, “Male and female, created he them,” “In his image, created he them”—you not only have to depart from a biblical understanding of male and female, you have to depart entirely from a biblical understanding of what it means to be human.

Later in the article, the author celebrates last Monday’s Supreme Court decision by which a 6-3 majority of the court declared that LGBT identity is included in the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As we have pointed out at length, that is ridiculous. It’s an unsustainable, unjustifiable reading of the statute, but nonetheless, this author looks back to that decision, celebrating it, but then goes on to say that it’s all about words. “Clarity and language provides social and linguistic accommodation for those of us traditionally denied both.” The next sentence, “The battle for civil rights is the battle over words. Denying trans people passports because our gender doesn’t match the sex assigned to us at birth limits freedom of movement.” The article goes on and on.

The big point here is where the author writes, “The battle for civil rights is the battle over words.” But here’s the point: It wasn’t until Monday. The main fronts in the battle for civil rights until now have been issues of sex, as in male and female, and as it comes down to race. They’ve been defined carefully in law as immutable characteristics, and that’s been the very logical ground of the anti-discrimination statutes. You can’t discriminate against a person because that person’s African American or Asian, or you could go down the list, precisely because that’s an immutable characteristic and thus as an unjustifiable discrimination. The same thing true when it comes to sex, as in male and female. It wasn’t an argument over words. It was an argument over biological reality.

Now over time, other issues were added to those protections, including physical disability or religious identity. But the point is the very heart of the argument, especially as it came down to the prohibition against sex discrimination, the leading issue there was a prohibition against discrimination against women. And eventually it was ruled that also would include men in the albeit rare cases in which a man was arguing that he had been denied a job because he was a man. But the whole logic of that requires knowing who a man is and who a woman is. That’s the rational world the Supreme Court abandoned last Monday.

But you’ll notice here that the argument is again, extremely illuminating. “The battle for civil rights is the battle over words.” Well, there we’ve just transcended biology. There we have just transcended being. We’ve just transcended the creation order. We’re being told that it’s all now about words. That’s very telling. It’s extremely concerning because those words include “mother” and “father,” “boy” and “girl.” They include “brother” and “sister.” They include “man” and “woman.” They include the very words we are being told here used to be a part of our society, but really can’t be anymore, not at least if tied to biology. They are according to Devin Michelle Bunten, the words that refer to bodies, but not to people with hearts and souls and minds. As the Christian understands, you can’t separate body from hearts and souls and minds.

Part III

Important Primaries in Kentucky and New York: The Surging Left in American Politics

But finally for The Briefing today, we have to turn to the fact that on Tuesday primaries were held, especially in New York state and in the state of Kentucky. In both states, the final results are not yet available, largely because in the context of COVID-19, there were so many write-in votes.

In the state of Kentucky that doesn’t have that larger population, more than 1 million absentee ballots were requested for the primary. And that comes with a lopsided situation in which there was no serious question about who would be the Republican presidential nominee. There was no serious question about who would be the eventual nominee for Kentucky Senate position. That is going to be the majority leader of the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell.

But when it comes to the Democratic side, there were, and are huge questions, not so much about the presidential election. Joe Biden has handily won the Kentucky primary, but it doesn’t matter anymore. He had already won the nomination anyway. It is instead several strategic races that tell us a great deal about how our culture is moving, the direction its moving, and in particular, the movement and momentum within the Democratic party. And that party is as we have noted lurching left. It’s leaping left, and it’s leaving in its wake many long-term incumbents. In the Democratic party, even more than the Republican party, incumbency had been a ticket to remaining in office. That’s because each of the parties have their own pattern of political support and each of the parties has its own mechanism for establishing leadership, both in the House and in the Senate.

When it comes to the Democratic party, you see very long-standing incumbents who are now losing to very progressive, very liberal insurgents. We saw this back in March in the case of representative Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, who lost to Marie Newman, and she ran considerably to his left. And the removal of Daniel Lipinski, who with his father had served 37 years in the United States Congress, means that there is virtually no species more extinct than pro-life Democrat.

But when it comes to the primary yesterday, all eyes were particularly on two races. There were more, and in races in New York state in particular, the progressives have generally won or appear to be winning. But the two most important races for Democratic nominations concerned a congressional seat in New York state and that senatorial race here in Kentucky. The question, who will run against majority leader, Mitch McConnell on the Democratic banner?

Until just a few days ago, virtually everyone inside and beyond Kentucky thought that that primary winner would be Amy McGrath. It was not expected even to be close. She’s a former fighter pilot, and she had run a very close congressional race, and she had tens of millions of dollars in funds raised. She was the choice of the establishment of the Democratic party, but even though the results are not yet in, the important thing to recognize is that she faced an insurgency from the left in the form of an African American, very liberal, stamped progressive state representative Charles Booker and in the course of the last several days, he had begun to surge in support. As of this morning where the votes stand, even though the race is very close, the most important thing to recognize is that it is extremely close and most of the ballots yet to be counted are going to come from areas likely to support Booker rather than McGrath.

In the state of New York it was a congressional district. The incumbent was representative Eliot L. Engel. He has been head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and he’s been in office for 30 plus years. That is to say, most of the voters voting in this primary in New York have known no representative for their district other than Eliot Engel. He’s in many ways, the model of the establishment Democrat in Congress. He’s never been particularly popular, and even some of his closest friends say that no one would use the word charismatic about him, but he was the incumbent and he was elected over and over and over again with the support of the Democratic machine, but that machine is breaking apart.

And in the course of the primary in New York, many of the people associated with the growing influence of the left in the Democratic party, that would include Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders and others, they supported Jamaal Bowman, a black middle school teacher running against Engel. And even though the final results once again are not in, it is almost certain that Bowman has defeated Eliot Engel.

Another interesting way to look at that race by the way, is to go back to the year 2016. It will tell us a great deal about the momentum, the political momentum and the changing landscape of American politics. Consider the fact that in the Democratic party, in the year 2016, the big question was the race between Hillary Clinton, the establishment’s choice, and of course, Bernie Sanders, the insurgent running from the left. He ran a shockingly successful campaign that came very close to dethroning Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And of course, Senator Sanders was back in the Democratic primaries in 2020. Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State was not, but they were both involved in this race. It was Hillary Clinton who endorsed Eliot Engel, and it was Bernie Sanders who endorsed Jamaal Bowman.

What’s the point of all of this? Hillary Clinton did win the Democratic nomination in 2016, but seen in retrospect, Bernie Sanders won the argument. So yes, that Hillary Clinton who ran not only to the left of her own husband, former President Bill Clinton, but to the left of the president who made her Secretary of State, President Barack Obama, is now faced by a party in which almost everyone is running to her left. In that party, and in much of American society right now, the lesson is clear: move left fast or get left behind.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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