Wednesday, November 18, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, November 18, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Tectonic Plates in American Politics Are Shifting: Religious Liberty and the Coming Battle of Executive Orders
We're living as if right now we are watching the tectonic plates of a society shifting before our eyes. There are issues that are absolutely urgent. We've been talking about COVID-19, that's urgent. We've been looking at challenges to religious liberty and morality, the redefinition of truth. We've been looking at the 2020 American election and the aftermath. We're still in that aftermath. It is sometimes difficult to look at the landscape and try to figure out which parts are moving and which are not. But honestly, most of the parts right now appear to be in motion, and Christians need to be watching what is taking place.
Now, for one thing, even as we are looking at the days after the election progressing, it becomes clearer and clearer that a Biden administration will be using executive orders basically to reverse many of the gains of the Trump administration that also came by executive order. But what I want to look at today is particularly the fact that many of the policies that are likely to be reversed are policies that the Trump administration put into place through executive orders to defend religious liberty.
Tom Gjelten at NPR has noticed this. That's National Public Radio. Headline article was Religious Freedom Arguments Give Rise to Executive Order Battle. As Gjelten tells us, "Key government policies on religious freedom and discrimination, once sent through legislation, are increasingly dictated by presidential orders, meaning they shift capriciously from one administration to the next." And so Tom Gjelten looks particularly at a couple of areas of the movement on these issues, likely with a Biden administration. And those two particular areas are the impact on LGBTQ issues and religious liberty. Religious freedom is in the headline, as we said, of the entire segment.
He points to something with which I wholeheartedly agree, and that is that the war of executive orders is a sign of a dysfunctional democratic system of government. You should be dealing with these issues through legislation, and as Tom Gjelten points out, "Such conflicts in the past have been resolved through legislative remedies. Congress passed the Landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. Both measures had bipartisan support, but that consensus has since broken down."
Indeed, that consensus has broken down, but it's not just that, the will to legislate has broken down. You have both the House of Representatives and the Senate growing recalcitrant towards taking on any truly costly legislation. Costly in terms of their political capital. They would have to put their names on this legislation. They would have to be known for having voted for it or against it.
And given the way partisan politics is now fought with incumbents from both parties, basically fearing more than anything else, being primary by someone from their own party, the reality is that legislative process is largely broken. That's lamentable. Our survival as a constitutional republic actually depends upon the legislature legislating.
But nonetheless, in the absence of that, legislation, presidents have stepped in with executive orders. And in particular, Tom Gjelten points to the fact that there is much at stake in this election. And thus with the question of the new administration, when it comes to, for instance, a Biden administration, reversing many of the orders having to do with the protection of religious liberty and religious freedom, even when it comes to the Trump administration, the kind of extension of recognition to conscience rights that was largely absent in terms of federal regulation before.
But as Tom Gjelten is looking at the picture, he seeing what we're seeing, and that is the fact that many of those executive orders are almost assuredly going to be reversed. Or if not reversed, then simply redefined or chipped away by an incoming democratic administration.
Ryan Anderson, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and he has been someone who has championed religious freedom and a traditional understanding of human beings as male and female. He says, "Given the gridlock, we're going to see more unilateral action from the executive branch, whether it be regulatory action or executive orders." And by the way, it's often hard to tell the difference between regulatory action and executive orders since all of this takes place, basically, within the purview of the executive branch.
NPR reminds us that in 2014 and in 2016, President Obama had handed down regulations, executive orders, that had to do with furthering the LGBTQ cause. But when he was elected president in 2016, shortly after taking office, President Trump began to issue executive orders to countermand or to reverse those particular executive orders of the Obama administration. Furthermore, the Trump administration went further, even than many conservatives, as many Christians had expected, when he put into place an executive branch directive that all of the major departments of government were to have an Office for Conscience and Religious Freedom as a part of the department's Office for Civil Rights.
Roger Severino, who was in charge of that Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services points out, "Every agency has a civil rights office in the federal government. Not every agency until now has had a religious freedom office, and now we do." Speaking of the Trump administration, and that has been very important. Roger Severino's role itself has been quite strategic. But the point is that that statement's included in this NPR report precisely because it is likely that that policy is going to be reversed. Or if not reversed, redefined into basic meaninglessness.
One of the things we're going to have to note is that more liberal groups sued over many of these Trump administration policies and thus, they find themselves before the federal courts. And one of the things an incoming Biden administration could do is simply to refuse to defend those policies in court, meaning that they would effectively then die.
Interest groups, as we have already seen, but we'll see at further detail, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, they have, as NPR notes, basically given demand letters to the incoming administration about what they expect in terms of executive orders, right down to proposed language in many forms. Thus those who hold to conservative religious principles, who have seen conviction and conscience protected, or at least the protections increased and affirmed under a Trump administration, are not likely to see a reversal or at least a significant rollback of those protections. And it's not going to be a surprise because Joe Biden told us as he was running for office, that he would reverse many of these policies. That was made abundantly clear. The voters had no way of not knowing, unless they didn't want to know, that that was part of a Joe Biden agenda.
And furthermore, given the dynamics in the democratic party, there's no way that anyone would have gained that party's nomination who was not signing on to those same assurances. But as Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation points out, when it comes to many of these issues, the LGBTQ issues in particular, in collision with religious liberty, it is the tea that is and will remain more problematic even than the others.
Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation again said, "There are a variety of religious traditions that hold viewpoints on this question, Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Latter-day Saints, Muslims, and various people who accept the Genesis creation story are going to have strong convictions about male and female." That's a pretty amazing sentence. I have gone back to it a couple of times to look at it. For one thing it's enormous in its breadth, including Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Latter-day Saints, Muslims, and various people.
But there is a particular revelation claim that is made here and there's an explicit reference to the book of Genesis, basically saying what we often say here on The Briefing, and that is that if you believe that the book of Genesis is indeed the revealed word of God, then you have very few options in dealing with the question of gender. More on that in our conversation today.
The Bible is just explicit. As we know in Genesis chapter one, making clear that God, the creator has made human beings in his image as male and female. And furthermore, all of the Bible, after Genesis one is a massive reaffirmation of that principal. A principle that by the way, makes the world, as we know it, intelligible. Anderson points to the public policy question, "The government might be asking us, meaning traditional believers, to violate those convictions. If we're going to be pluralistic, how do we navigate those disagreements?" It's going to be very interesting, to say the very least, very urgent to watch exactly how these issues move forward.
But I decided to go to the website of the ACLU and look at its demands issued to the president and to the website of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Both of those organizations by the way, claim to believe in religious liberty, but it is a secularist vision of religious liberty. That means a form of religious liberty that has to take a back seat to the newly invented liberties of personal autonomy, the sexual revolution and the revolution in morality that is now summarized by LGBT and Q.
An Insidious Threat to Religious Institutions of Higher Learning: The Human Rights Campaign Gives Its List of Demands for a Biden Administration
But next, that takes me to another very important issue, and that is the fact that I mentioned a few days ago that the Human Rights Campaign, that is one of the most prominent LGBTQ activist organizations, had addressed a document addressed to the incoming democratic administration, entitled Blueprint for Positive Change 2020. And I mentioned that in this particular document recalls for additional legislative action and executive orders. But I actually read every single word of this report, now that it is publicly available, and what I found in it is actually far more alarming even than what had been reported in the mainstream media.
This document from the Human Rights Campaign goes department by department, through much of the federal government, making specific demands and policy recommendations in order to further the LGBTQ cause. And it's very clear, it's explicit. The policy directives and the priorities of the Human Rights Campaign are pretty predictable. You have sections addressed to everything from the department of agriculture, to the department of health and human services. Some of these are easier to figure out. Basically in every one of these departments, the demand is for some kind of policy to prohibit what is identified as discrimination. For instance, in the department of agriculture to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ participants and assisted USDA programs and services, including nutrition support programs." In other words, this document is quite specific.
Interestingly, even though the incoming administration is addressed with several demands from the Human Rights Campaign related to the department of state, the first one is "include a non-binary gender marker and modernize existing requirements for updating gender markers on United States' passports." But again, just to remember something, passports are identification documents, and a part of identification is to quickly be able to limit the total number of human beings you're looking for, or trying to identify in a particular case. That's why, for instance, if you are giving a report about a crime, the police are going to ask you was the criminal a male or a female? Was the robber a male or a female. And furthermore, when you have a victim or someone who's missing, are we looking for a man or a woman? Are we looking for a boy or a girl? That becomes not only a matter of intellectual curiosity, it makes a material difference. And when you think about a passport, just keep in mind that the passport is, by definition, an identification document, and this is not going to make identification more specific, but rather less specific.
It's also important to recognize that when we look around the world, much of the world, indeed, when it comes to population, most of the world has not yet joined the moral revolution when it comes to the LGBTQ issues. In most of the world, it still makes a very clear difference whether one is a man or a woman. And in most of those cultures, that's a pretty clear and easily identifiable marker.
But the most interesting of the sections in this document addressed to the Department of State, is this, "Create a panel of human rights experts to review the conclusion of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and provide inclusive recommendations." Now we'll be talking more about this report in days to come, it is important, but what's important right now is to recognize that within this demand is the statement that, "The Commission on Unalienable Rights was designed to challenge the international consensus with a narrow view of human rights that, among other things, would leave LGBTQ people, even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination."
Let's just stop there for a moment. What are they saying? Well, the entire purpose of this Commission on Unalienable Rights in the State Department was to identify what are actual rights that all human beings should be recognized to have, and thus the U.S. government would defend, and what are invented or artificial rights that should not be a part or the government's agenda. And what you'll notice here is something very interesting.
This is a very clear and pointed critique of the Trump administration's State Department and of the State Department under Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo's commission on unalienable rights. It's the statement that the State Department needs to be corrected according to the Human Rights Campaign in order to put LGBTQ rights, these newly invented and declared rights, back on the national agenda.
But you'll notice that it says that the attempt of the Trump administration was basically, "to challenge the international consensus with a narrow view of human rights." I can't let that pass because if you are looking at an international consensus, it is not going to be reflected by the Human Rights Campaign. It's intellectually dishonest for this group to claim an international consensus for the LGBTQ revolution that is just not there. Not especially if you're looking at world populations and as you're looking at various cross cultural international analyses.
At the very least, we should agree that it is illegitimate, in this case, to declare a consensus, because actually you're looking at a deep divide in the international community, and let's just admit it, you're looking at a deep divide in the United States of America.
But the most amazing thing I found within this report has not been noted by anyone to my knowledge yet. It's under the Department of Education, where there is the demand to the Biden administration, that it "ensure non-discrimination policies and science-based curriculum are not undermined by religious exemptions to accreditation standards." This is particularly sinister. I've not seen any document like this heretofore.
The actual text of this statement says, "Language regarding accreditation of religious institutions of higher education in the Higher Education Opportunity Act could be interpreted to require accrediting bodies to accredit religious institutions that discriminate or do not meet science-based curricula standards. The Department of Education says the text should issue a regulation clarifying that this provision, which requires accreditation agencies to respect the state admission of religious institutions, does not require the accreditation of religious institutions that do not meet neutral accreditation standards, including non-discrimination policies and scientific curriculum requirements." That's an atomic bomb.
In this text, you have an open demand for the Biden administration to deny accreditation, or at least to facilitate the denial of accreditation, to Christian institutions, Christian colleges and universities, but also beyond Christian, other religious institutions and schools to deny accreditation if those schools do not meet the non-discrimination demands of the LGBTQ community. And you'll also notice that language, it says, which also "do not meet science-based curricula standards".
Now, that's insidious. It's insidious from top to bottom. It's a demand that schools that will not accept what is declared by any prevailing consensus within the academic elites to be the current science, such institutions could be and should be, by implication, denied accreditation.
Now, perhaps some of you are thinking immediately of creation, Genesis evolution. Yes, that would be included within this, but also not just Genesis one, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but Genesis 1:27, male and female created he them. There are those who are now saying that that's not good science, and you can see exactly how this ideology will press forward.
Again, I have not seen anyone bring attention to this. I found it only by reading the entire document, but I have heretofore never seen such an insidious statement that is now right out in the open, going right for the accreditation of Christian institutions. And that's really interesting because in going that way, they are clearly trying to create an alternative way of coercing religious institutions, or marginalizing religious institutions, beyond even trying to go for something like federal funding through Title IV programs.
We need to note that in this case, accreditation is a more fundamental challenge or threat. Because of that accreditation, those institutions can't participate in anything like the GI Bill. They may be in a position where their credits can't be transferred to other institutions. Their graduates can't apply for graduate study in other institutions. This is an undisguised attempt to shut down any kind of Christian college or university that would dare to be actually Christian. The same thing when it comes to other religious groups that hold to, you'll recall what Ryan Anderson said, any form of reality tied to Genesis.
Drag Queen Story Hour Crosses the Canadian Border: Is It a Big Deal or Not? Scripture Is Clear
Next, we're going to look at another headline issue, and this one is closely tied to what we've discussed already. But in order to look at this issue, we're going to have to cross our nation's border to go to the North, into the nation of Canada. But trust me, this issue is not just in Canada. It emerged, if anything, earlier in the United States. But nonetheless, the CBC, That is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, released a report by Tahiat Mahboob entitled, "How a B.C. Library's Drag Queen Story Hour Turned into a Nationwide Fight for Intellectual Freedom."
Mahboob reports, "When Miss Freida Whales stepped into the Okanagan Regional Library (ORL) last September, she was not prepared for the crowd waiting for the inaugural Drag Queen Story Hour." The character, Freida Whales, played by Tyson Cook, recalled, "I remember coming through the doors, I was wearing my blue wig with my unicorn pony dress, we finished setting up, and the crowd grew and grew."
Then the CBC says, "Despite the event's success, when the ORL" that's Okanagan Regional Library, "invited Cook to read stories to kids during its story-time hour, it provoked a pushback from many local residents. Following the first Drag Queen Story Hour, an ideological battle broke out between the library board, librarians, drag queens, politicians, and parents forcing the community to reassess the role of libraries and where drag queens fit into such public spaces."
Now let's just stop. We talked about Drag Queen Story Hour in a couple of different dimensions before, but it's back. And it's back not only in this little public library, but in many others across the country. But you could divide people in the United States right now between those who think this is a big deal and those who think it is not a big deal.
Now, I'll say unashamedly, I think it's a big deal. I think we're looking at far more here than something that is just a matter of children's entertainment. We're seeing here, a complete revolution in human identity, and of course in sexuality and sexual behavior being absolutely normalized in one of the most normalizing contexts imaginable, and that is story time, book-reading time for children.
We're told in the CBC report that Drag Queen Story Hour got its start, now, wait for it, in San Francisco half a decade ago, but we're told that this was the first for this particular library in Canada. We're also told that the librarian who decided to do it wasn't expecting much controversy. I don't know if I can believe that in the first place, but nonetheless, the controversy came and the library's leadership was equivocating on whether it was a good idea or not. And the professional librarians that we have seen are one of the most progressive, one of the most liberal unions of sorts, professional organizations in the United States.
They demand, and it's right here in this article, that only librarians have any right to determine what would rightly take place in the library. But of course, we're here talking about the library as a public asset. And thus, you're looking at the fact that this very liberal group of librarians, and yes, just look at the resolutions of the professional library associations, and you will see that it's a moral revolution being pushed upon children. But in this case, with the compliance of many parents who think it's absolutely wonderful and cute to bring their children to Drag Queen Story Hour.
But a couple of notes about this, this isn't just about viewpoint neutrality as some have claimed, because it's not just a group of drag queens who said, we want to hold an event and use the library. This was librarians inviting and the library sponsoring Drag Queen Story Hour. The statement that was made by one authority is this, "Libraries are about information and access to information. There are many different ways that information is presented for different viewpoints, different communities, different cultures, different people. Everybody" said this spokesperson "has their own rights and intellectual freedom to their own beliefs. The library does not represent a singular belief. The library hopes to represent all beliefs and provide that information."
Okay, so here's an interesting question, where is the evidence that this group of professional librarians, and this public library, ever used library time and library resources to invite a group that might be opposed to the LGBTQ revolution to speak or to hold an event or a story hour for children at the library? Don't waste too much of your time. It didn't happen. It's not going to happen. What you have here is a declaration of viewpoint neutrality that is anything but.
One woman identified as Cynthia Gunsinger said, "This was the most attended event of the library that I've ever seen." We're told that she brought her husband and their toddler. One of the librarians said, "There was zero backlash, zero protestors, zero negative comments at the event, just a community coming together and showing love. My heart could have exploded that day." Well, policy came and then came the argument about what kind of space the library was and whether or not any criticism against the event was legitimate. The basic slant of the CBC report is that of course, there could be no legitimate criticism about such an event.
One of the oddest statements in this report is that Drag Queen Story Hour has basically nothing to do with sex. Well, we have plenty of evidence of Drag Queen Story Hours across the United States that that is not true. And let's just point out that most drag queens offer what can only be described as a highly sexualized vision of sexuality. The sexual identity, which by the way, is the opposite of the sex identified at birth, otherwise you can't be a drag queen. A woman can't play a woman as a drag queen. A man can't play a man. It's only drag if a man's playing a woman or a woman's playing a man. But then again, as we're now living in what the transgender revolutionaries called a gender non-binary, that is likely to be a drag, actually, on the entire idea of being a drag queen.
But as I said in the beginning of the program today, God's intention from the beginning, an intention that's revealed to us in ourselves and in God's word in the warp and woof of the universe, an intention that makes the world around us intelligible, an intention that makes our own self-identity intelligible. This is something that is reaffirmed throughout the entirety of the Bible. Biblical theology from Genesis to Revelation keeps a very clear emphasis upon the distinction that God made in creation between male and female.
And this, yes, does come down to dress, to public presentation. Sometimes I hear even Christians say, "Well, when it comes to something like Drag Queen Story Hour, the Scripture doesn't say anything about that." But of course it does. And not just in generalized statements and commandments about modesty, but also in a passage that is as explicit as Deuteronomy chapter 22, verse five. In the English standard version, it reads, "A woman shall not wear a man's garment nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord, your God." In other words, God takes the very way he made human beings as male and female, he takes that distinction with utmost seriousness and he expects his people to do the same.
Now, in this case, he expects all of his human creatures to do the same. That's something the Bible makes extremely clear. But it's also very important to us to recognize that in the flow of biblical theology, the law that was given to Israel through Moses was a law that was made necessary not because those laws were not embedded in creation already, Paul makes that very clear in Romans chapter one, but rather because of human sinfulness that had obscured and confused and refused to see that revelation, even in nature.
In other words, just keep in mind this principle of biblical theology, every single issue in the law is something that should be visible in creation already. And thus, when in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 22, verse five, we are told that a woman shall not wear a man's garment nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, and that one who does such a thing is identified as an abomination to the Lord. That's supposed to be something we should know already. But in a fallen world, we now need a command to make it clear.
So when people ask, is it a big deal? Just recognize that the biblical definition of sin is an effort to unravel the universe in terms of its intelligibility, that is our knowledge of it, and in terms of divine sovereignty. So is Drag Queen Story Hour a big deal? Yes, brothers and sisters, it's a big deal.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.