Tuesday, December 8, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
This Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
No More ‘In God We Trust?’ — One Group of Democrats Wants to Restore “Constitutional Secularism”
Is America a secular nation? Is our society secular? Is the United States Constitution a secular or even secularist document? Those questions are never far from the news in recent times. And just in the last several days, Religion News Service ran an article with the headline, "Citing rise of 'Christian Nationalism'"--that's put in quotation marks--"Secular Democrats unveil sweeping recommendations for Biden."
Once again we see a set of recommendations, basically policy demands, issued by a group to the Biden transition team. And of course this one made news at Religion News Service and Jack Jenkins is the reporter in this case. Jenkins tells us, "A democratic group dedicated to representing secular values, unveiled a slate of recommendations where President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration outlining a sweeping agenda designed to roll back many of President Trump's actions involving religion," and to, "restore a vision of constitutional secularism."
Now that's actually not inaccurate. This organization is actually calling for restoring a vision of Constitutional secularism. That's the very language used by this group, which is known as the Secular Democrats of America. The interesting thing here is the extreme nature of this language. It's actually far more radical than many might recognize because it's not just a word secular. It's not just secular-ization as a process that happens in society.
Instead, this is about Constitutional secularism, and secularism is an ideology. It's not just something that happens. It's an ideology, it is a worldview. It is a picture of all reality that is based in the fundamental assumption of a secular cosmos. Jenkins tells us later, "The SDA's agenda offers a wide range of policy recommendations to push back against the so-called Christian nationalist movement, which the group describes as an extraordinarily well-funded and well-organized phenomenon whose extreme and sectarian agenda was on constant display under the Trump/Pence administration." That's a statement from the RNS report that sites rather generously from the SDA document.
Also, Jenkins reports, "The group offered several recommendations to help reframe concepts of patriotism in ways that are more inclusive. Among them were encouraging politicians to avoid terms like God and Country, promoting non-theistic and humanistic chaplains in the military, including non-religious representatives at interfaith gatherings. And suggested the use of the country's one-time unofficial motto "E pluribus Unum," Latin for "Out of Many, One." Instead of the motto adopted in 1956, "In God We Trust," which, the group argues, excludes nontheists and polytheists."
Well, as you've already heard, there is a lot here and we're talking about a group that actually has brought policy recommendations with specificity. And let's just go back to the list as reported by RNS. Number one, politician should avoid using terms like "God and Country.". Now what's the problem there? Well, it's the secularist irritation, or for that matter, active protest against suggesting that theistic faith and patriotism or loyalty to country have anything to do with one another.
Of course, those two concepts do have something to do with each other, which is one of the reasons why "God and Country" has been a theme of patriotism and of at least some kind of civil religion. Not only in the United States, but elsewhere as well. Go to the United Kingdom, look at the official role of the Church of England, look at the coronation of a British Monarch. Consider the language that comes actually from most European nations, which were birthed in the context of Christendom and you will find a very similar understanding. And that is because, by the way, Christians understand and most theists understand that the larger context, the larger worldview that produces a proper healthy patriotism is rooted in an understanding of the cosmos that is decidedly not secular.
It refers to transcendent values. That is to say, values that transcend not only humanity and the human mind, but transcend creation itself. Which means a creator, which again, gets to the protest you're finding from the Secular Democrats of America. Because this kind of language is found throughout American society and, well, you can hear their irritation here. They're saying to politicians avoid terms like "God and Country.".
There is also the suggestion that the Biden administration should promote non-theistic and humanistic chaplains in the military. Now that's been suggested, it's actually been a matter of government policy for some time. But the point to be made is that when people in the military are going to a chaplain, they're generally looking for a chaplain that reflects something like their own religious beliefs.
And thus you find Jewish chaplains, you even find Muslim chaplains, you certainly find both Catholic and Protestant chaplains. But the one thing most people aren't looking for from a chaplain is some form of organized identifiable unbelief. Also what has to be added to the mix is the fact that the military population is actually, as measured by objective studies, more religious and even more Christian by percentage of self affiliation than in the larger American culture.
But nonetheless, you can see the irritation here. You can see the secularist worldview demanding its place at the table. You also have the suggestion, and it's more than just a suggestion, and it's actually more than a suggestion, that "In God We Trust" be sidelined. Now here's something to note I'm going to read to you from the group's report itself. This is actually from the text of the Secular Democrats of America, their document entitled, "Restoring Constitutional Secularism and Patriotic Pluralism in the White House."
Now here's the statement, "Whenever possible, we urge you to reference and quote the original United States National motto 'E Pluribus Unum,' 'Out of Many, One.' The current motto, 'In God We Trust' is a relic of McCarthyism and the anti-atheist hysteria of the 1950s. And it has been invoked by Christian nationalists to reinforce their historically revisionist narrative of our nation's founding. They characterize the United States founding as a Christian nation based in biblical principles rather than as a secularist nation based in revolutionary democratic ideas. The original motto, which we hope to see restored by Congress, is inclusive of all faiths and none. While 'In God We Trust' excludes non theists and polytheists."
Now let's just consider this for a moment, where in the world did the official motto of the United States come from? Well, it's true, it was adopted by Congress and it was enthusiastically supported by then President Dwight David Eisenhower in the 1950s. Was it in the context of the Cold War? Yes, explicitly so. There is no explanation for the "In God We Trust" official motto outside the reality that the great competitor, the great enemy of the United States and of the democratic West during the 1950s and beyond, during the entire period of the Cold War, was the Soviet Union. Which was, officially atheistic.
The United States and people in the West overwhelmingly understood that there was a contrast of worldviews between the West and the Soviet Union, that yes, came down to the fact that the Soviet Union was officially atheistic and the overwhelming populations of Western nations were quite officially not.
But we can understand something of the predicament of the secularists here, because it's no fun being a secularist if you have to take a dollar bill out of your pocket and see imprinted on it "In God We Trust.". But there's something else going on here. Because you see the kind of attempt to marginalize the Christian influence by saying that "In God We Trust" is a relic of McCarthyism, talking about the so-called, "Red Scare" that took place under the leadership of Senator Joe McCarthy. But by the same token, it is a dismissal without actually dealing with any of the arguments.
The fact is that the reality of a militant, atheistic communism threatening world domination was a wake-up call for the United States and other nations in the West to the fact that we are decidedly not coming from the very same worldview. But you see something else here. And that is the fact that there is an attempt to say that the founding of the United States was a secular or secularist founding. They say this right in this document. They speak of conservatives saying that the United States founding as a Christian nation was based in biblical principles. But they then go on to say that instead the United States was founded as, "A secularist nation based in revolutionary ideas."
Which is true? Which one's right, which one's wrong? Well, the reality is, to be intellectually honest, is to recognize that there were revolutionary enlightenment ideals that were certainly held by many among the American founders. But it's also true that they were overwhelmingly influenced by not only some kind of vague religiosity, but specifically they were deeply influenced by Christianity.
And furthermore, at that point in world history the Christian worldview was, in truth, the only generally available worldview. In other words, the closer you look the more you're going to find the American founding established in a worldview that was Christian and inherited Christianity in some cases an explicit Christianity, and other cases what amounts to a form of civil religion. That is to say a Christianity that was basically held in some form, even by the people who did not consider themselves to be Christians.
Looking at the actual report from the Secular Democrats of America, there's a call to, "Disentangled the conflation of faith and patriotism." But like with the term "God and Country," there is actually a worldview explanation for why those issues are generally, if not always, linked.
It's also interesting to note that on the left, the increasingly secular left, there is an increasing antipathy towards any idea of patriotism, any kind of patriotism is dismissed as nationalism. It's also extremely important to recognize that this group of Secular Democrats demands that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act be either repealed or nullified by one means or another.
The report states, "While RIFRA was intended as a shield for religious practice, it has become a sword to impose religious based prejudice. It has moved from permitting an individual to smoke payote as part of a religious ceremony to permitting a corporation with annual revenues in excess of a half billion dollars to deny female employees access to insurance that includes contraception."
Now that's a mouthful, but what it amounts to is a full endorsement of the infamous Contraception Mandate that was central to the Obama administration, a mandate that would require even religious employers to offer contraceptive coverage against conviction. And that would have to include also contraceptives that may lead to abortion, meaning abortive-fashion complicity as well.
And this, by the way, went all the way to the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case and the Supreme Court majority sided with Hobby Lobby. Holding that, closely held private corporations could indeed be recognized to have a religious Liberty interest that must be respected by the United States government.
But at the same time, we see a Biden administration stating upfront that it is going to bring the situation right back. Such that The Little Sisters of the Poor, Christian colleges and universities, Christian ministries of other forms, we will find ourselves told once again that that mandate is absolutely back in place. And of course no less than Joe Biden told us during the campaign that he would put it back in place. Basically this group, the Secular Democrats of America, says to the Biden administration, "If you can't repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, then make it basically meaningless."
But as we close our consideration of this issue let's go back to their central claim, that America's founding was secularist. Again, that is actually an extremely radical claim because secularism means absolutely opposed to any idea of God, any form of theism. And that's just blatantly untrue.
Just to leave you with one statement, let me bring in one authority to correct the Secular Democrats of America. Just choosing one for the sake of time today, I will make that one witness John Adams, one of the most important of the founding fathers, the second president of the United States. Who in October of 1798 wrote this: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
So again, there you had President Adams saying that our Constitutional order was made for a moral and religious people and that it couldn't survive if it were attempted by any other people. Now again, you decide who you will take as the authority about the founding of the nation, the Secular Democrats of America or one of the founders of the United States of America.
What Does a New Report on the Religiosity of LGBTQ Adults Actually Say? Well, Not Exactly What the Mainstream Media Is Reporting
But next I turn to another major report. This one issued by the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law. The Williams Institute is devoted to the study of primarily legal issues as they pertain to the LGBTQ community in the United States. And thus, you take that into account when you consider the report. The summary was given to us by NBC News, Dan Avery reported, "Almost half of LGBTQ adults in the United States are religious, according to a recent report from the UCLA School of Laws, Williams Institute. Of nearly 16,000 respondents polled in the Gallup daily tracking survey, 47% were either moderately or highly religious. Those who were older, Black or lived in the South were most likely to be religious."
Interestingly, listen to this, "To determine religiosity, respondents were asked about church attendance and the importance of religion in their daily lives. Respondents who said religion was not an important part of their daily life and that they never or seldom attended services were categorized as not religious. Those who indicated religion was important, even if they attended services less than once a month, were classified as moderately religious. As were those who attended services weekly, even if they said religion was not important in their lives."
Well, if you're confused by that, that's because you were paying attention. In other words, this is the kind of social science that means it's far more social than it is science. The closer you look at this, you realize how questionable the research apparatus is. We're told by NBC News, "By that metric, 27% were classified as moderately religious, 20% as highly religious, and just over half 53% as not religious."
Now, again, this particular research takes what we can only describe as the most generous definition of what it means to be religious in any sort, in any way, by any means. You're looking here at the fact that someone who attends religious services less than once a month is still classified as moderately religious. I'll just say that's very moderate indeed.
But what's really interesting in this report is the understanding of the worldview issues that are at stake. And here's the biggest of these issues, if you look at these numbers, let's just take them at face value, let's just assume the numbers are absolutely credible. The headline says, "Nearly half of LGBTQ adults are religious," but just flip that. If the headline tells us that nearly half of LGBTQ adults are religious, that means that actually more than half are not. And when you consider the threefold breakdown here of, "moderately religious" or, "highly religious" and then, "non-religious," well, you have to be in only one of those three categories to be classified as something other than religious.
But when you compare this to studies of the comprehensive American population what really jumps out at you, although the news report doesn't hint at this at all, is the fact that this is remarkably different than the statistics about religious belief or religious participation on the part of the larger American population.
What am I saying? I am saying that according to this very report, when put in the context of what we know about religion and religious participation in the United States, the LGBTQ adult community is markedly less religious and markedly more secular than the general population. But that's not the headline, which tells you something about the press interest in the story.
The NBC report sites lead author of the study Kerith J. Conron, Research Director of the Williams Institute who said, "Their faith," speaking of LGBTQ persons covered in the research, "must've been pretty strong when they were younger and coming out and there were even fewer accepting places. It persisted, despite discrimination and rejection."
The NBC News report also cites the lead author of the report as describing most churches as unwelcoming towards LGBTQ people historically. Speaking of the long-term projection, she says, "My hypothesis is that fewer and fewer people in young adulthood are choosing religion. It's a pattern we see in non LGBT people as well. People are consciously deciding to step away from the religion of their youth because it doesn't embrace their values." The next sentence in the NBC report, "Even straight Americans have cited their church's treatment of the gay community as part of the reason they've left, she added."
Now we're being told this over and over again, but it's actually interesting to look for the research that makes really clear that people who had been deeply involved in conservative churches are now un-involved because of a disagreement over the LGBTQ moral issues. I'm looking for the research that documents that.
Actually what we're seeing more than anything else is that the people who have had a more vague evangelical or Christian identity are increasingly identifying with the moral values of the culture and not with the moral values of historic Christianity. Then they're making their decision. And that also makes sense.
But it's also interesting to look at the actual text of this report, and it's pretty considerable, it doesn't actually answer many of the most interesting and pressing questions you would think the researchers would have considered, but here's one of the big issues, and I've remarked about this over and over again on The Briefing. As you look at this kind of breakdown, you look at the categories used in this kind of report, it becomes very clear that where you have a claim of divine revelation, such as is essential to Christianity, where you have not only a transcendent morality, but a revealed morality that is binding on us, then you find that there's a distancing between the people who live in defiance of that revealed morality and the institutions that are supposed to represent that morality.
And that's why you see so many people, especially on the left, saying you've got to come to terms with the new reality. The Church is going to have to give up its biblical morality and understanding of creation and join the moral revolution. But here's something else you need to note, the churches that have followed that advice, "Let's just say we're not really concerned about truth, we're just concerned with a pragmatic evaluation," pragmatically, that hasn't turned out too well for those churches either.
You look at the churches that have rushed to follow after and celebrate the LGBTQ revolution. Let me tell you what they're not filled with, people who are excited about their revolution. Why do I say that? Because they're actually not filled with anyone. But we are concerned with truth and we are submitted to scripture and the scripture is sufficient and it is God's word unchanged and unchanging. And yes, it does reveal the meaning of creation, what it means for human beings to be made male and female. And it does reveal a very consistent sexual morality that is yes, binding on us.
Now of course, we as Christians would point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that promises the forgiveness of sins. That's the very essence of the good news of the gospel. But it also only makes sense if we know on biblical terms what sin is and what it means to be a sinner. All of this means that these reports sometimes turn out to be even more interesting than you might think. They reveal more than the headlines might even reveal. And it's also very clear that the mainstream media tells you what they want you to know about these reports. They often don't go into much of the substance and they don't tell you what the data will also reveal.
As I said, if you're going to run a headline that says almost half of LGBT Americans are religious, then that actually points out the fact that more than half are not. It's interesting to actually look at the reports themselves and then look at the media coverage. Sometimes they have a great deal to do with one another. Sometimes, frankly, they don't.
A Heartbreaking Obituary Reminds Us of Our Need for a Savior and Christmas Reminds Us That the Savior has Come—Jesus Christ the Lord
But finally, I want to turn to an obituary. It's a very sad obituary of a woman here in Louisville, Kentucky who died of metastatic cancer at age 77. It's a moving obituary that is obviously written by people who dearly love her, but it includes some very interesting theological material that might otherwise be missed.
We're told about this woman, "Raised Lutheran, she was attracted to pacifism and attended Quaker meeting for years, but never was comfortable with the notions of a savior. She eventually was drawn to liberal Judaism because of its focus on ethics and study, and she converted to Judaism as an adult." Now, just as we were looking at this, it's really, really interesting. We're told that this is a person who was raised Lutheran, but was attracted to passivism and actually attended Quaker meeting for years but, "Never was comfortable with notions of a savior."
It's an extremely revealing statement, isn't it? It's a heartbreaking statement as a Christian looks at it. It's also very interesting that it's a statement that made its way all the way into a published obituary of an individual. In other words, given the limitations of space that would be included in any published obituary, it's fascinating that this one phrase found its way into this one. That this individual, "Never was comfortable with notions of a savior."
That's an extremely revealing statement, just think about it. This is about a person who was never comfortable with an idea or a concept and notion of a savior. That is actually the concept central to Christianity. The fact that we cannot save ourselves and that we desperately need a savior. And even as Christmas loons before us, the great good news that the savior we need, the only savior who can rescue us is indeed the Savior the Father sent.
I must tell you that as I saw that line, I thought of that verse you well know from the prologue to John's Gospel. John 1, beginning in verse 11, we read, "He came to his own and his own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God."
And then remember that absolutely precious and crucial verse that then continues, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we have seen his glory. Glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth." A reminder to us that we do not need merely the notion of a savior, we need a savior and we know a savior. We were given a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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 tomorrow for The Briefing.