The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, December 17, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, December 17, 2020.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Trap of Intersectionality: There’s Much More to the Buttigieg Nomination Than What You Read in the Headlines

The array of LGBTQ issues is right now, one of the most important diagnostic tools in understanding a culture. The worldview of that culture, several headlines coming just in the last several days and hours demand our attention. The first has to do with the Biden transition team’s announcement of the next United States, secretary of the Department of Transportation. And as you heard from the president-elect, that person is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who by no coincidence was one of the presidential candidates we are told, who bonded with Joe Biden during the course of the democratic presidential nomination. But let’s just remind ourselves of the big importance of this. Pete Buttigieg is not being added to the president’s cabinet in this position because he has any particular expertise when it comes to transportation.

South Bend, Indiana is a city of about 100,000 people. It is not known for its massive subway system. It isn’t known for having a major issue in transportation unlike other places. He is basically known for the restructuring of the city’s downtown, but more than anything else, it’s clear, and the headlines basically make this clear. The news here is that Pete Buttigieg would be the first openly declared LGBTQ cabinet member of any presidential administration going back to George Washington.

We’ve been looking at the issue of identity politics and the toxins that it sets loose. We’ve also looked at the accompanying idea of intersectionality. It’s really derivative of this kind of identity politics. And it’s going to be a very healthy exercise for us to understand where we now stand and where this leads. Let’s just consider this, LGBT groups are celebrating right now openly. We can understand why the nomination of the first openly gay cabinet member in the history of the United States but intersectionality works this way. And before intersectionality, identity politics.

Identity politics says the most important thing about us, the politically significant truth about us is that we are identified by certain racial, ethnic characteristics, certain linguistic characteristics, certain presence of abilities or absence of those abilities, or for that matter certain sexual identities. We might claim thus the array LGBTQ and don’t forget that ominous plus sign. But intersectionality, which is derived from identity politics and basically becomes inevitable once you embrace identity politics says that, as you look at these identities, there are intersections of these identities. You have not only someone who is black or Hispanic but you also have perhaps a LGBTQ identity or you have something else.

And thus, as you’re looking at, for instance, African-American identity, there are those who are claiming that African-American men are relatively privileged and thus possess power at the expense of African-American women. African-American women are by this calculation, even more oppressed than African-American men. And thus their voices should be brought to the fore. Their issues should become primary but then you can go on and see, intersectionality has no end. How does it apply to this?

Well, how long will the LGBTQ movement celebrate the fact that an openly gay middle-class white man has become the first LGBTQ openly such member of a president’s cabinet because after all, he’s not a lesbian and because after all, he’s not bisexual and he is not African-American and he is not Hispanic and he is not, well, you can go down the list. He is not transgender. And so, as you’re looking at this, you recognize that LGBTQ and then of course the plus sign that follow means that, next there will be the demand that there needs to be the first openly lesbian member of a president’s cabinet.

And then, they will just go down the list, LGBTQ and of course, as you’re looking at the plus sign, this is never going to end. As we’re looking at this, we recognize that we have now reached a certain point in the revolution in American morality and culture where yes, Pete Buttigieg has now been nominated by the president-elect to be the next Secretary of Transportation. But the nomination is not really so much about the Department of Transportation or any particular expertise when it comes to transportation. It has instead to do with identity politics but there is another angle to the Buttigieg nomination and it shows up very interestingly in the main article about the announcement that appeared in the New York Times. This article by Reid Epstein and Coral Davenport has the headline, “Former Rival as Partner for Agenda on Climate.”

Now, what makes this article interesting is the fact that it comes with the argument that the main importance of Pete Buttigieg serving in this role in the cabinet as secretary of transportation, that it basically comes down to the fact that he is going to become an agent for and turn the Department of Transportation into an agency for the transformation of society, according to the climate agenda. The article states this, “The transportation department under Mr. Biden is expected to play a newly climate centric role, particularly because of the agency’s authority to regulate vehicle emissions, the leading source of climate warming pollution in the United States to encourage electric vehicles and to provide funding for mass transit.” Carol Browner, who served as president Barack Obama’s senior climate change advisor said, “Transportation should really be considered as a green agency.”

Another statement is this, “Climate change is also expected to play a newly critical role in planning infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, and the levees as the agency takes into account new climate science, showing how heat and flooding could damage such structures and building and planning accordingly.” Now, one of the things we’ve noted here is that it’s not just some kind of far right conspiracy theory to say that government and its regulatory branches take advantage of something like the COVID-19 pandemic, or for that matter, the issue of climate change in order to bring about comprehensive change that may or may not actually in the end, have anything to do with either epidemiology, or for that matter ecology. They may, they might not.

But the point is the government seizes the opportunity. That’s the way the regulatory state works but it’s not just that. We also see the principle that when you do have this kind of regulatory incursion, there is no natural back-off. Once government takes this kind of authority, it is extremely difficult to have the government back off. There are actually very few successful examples of the government ever backing off. A couple of other things to keep in mind about Mayor Pete. Remember that by the time he dropped out of the race for the democratic nomination, he did so as part of a concerted effort to try to help Joe Biden gain the nomination successful, of course, as that effort was. But it’s also important to recognize that Mayor Pete, as he began his campaign and especially as he grew into public prominence in 2019, he was clearly running from the left but in order to gain more votes, he ran more towards the center.

But of course that’s not the center of the nation. That was the center of the Democratic primary vote. But it’s just important to remember that he holds an extreme position on abortion, virtually no acceptable limitation all the way up until the moment of birth. On the LGBTQ set of issues, you can just imagine but we’re really talking about someone who represents an agenda that is becoming increasingly clear, though completely expected when it comes to the Biden administration.

Part II

Hungary Is Now an Outlaw in the E.U. for Affirming that a Mother Is a Woman and a Father Is a Man — And If Hungary Is an Outlaw, Then So Is Your Church

But next, looking also at very important recent headlines, we leave the United States and go to the nation of Hungary. CNN offers the headline, “Hungary passes anti-LGBTQ law effectively barring same-sex couples from adopting.” The New York Times headline, “Hungary further expands executive power and curtails gay rights.” Now, all across the international media in Europe and in North America in particular, there are screaming headlines about the fact that Hungary has now turned back the modern age.

It is entering into a prehistoric era of unimaginable repression. When, for example, in that country, they define adoption and marriage the way that human beings have basically defined adoption and marriage going back through millennia of human history. But as you look at the mainstream media, it is clear. And as you look at the directions in our culture that a nation like Hungary is now to be exposed as an outlier, as an outlaw nation. That’s exactly the way the European Union is looking at Hungary. Now, as you look at the headline from the New York Times, it points to constitutional provisions that have taken place that do strengthen the executive there in Hungary. More on that in just a moment but the big issue of our concern is what this has to do with defining parenthood, especially on issues of adoption in Hungary. CNN’s report starts this way.

“Hungary’s parliament is voted to redefine the concept of family in the country’s constitution family.” Interestingly, is put in quotation marks. Yes, we’re at the point now that the use of the word family has to be put in quotation marks but the story goes on. “A move that will effectively bar same-sex couples from adopting children. The move has been met,” says CNN, “with outcry from human rights groups and LGBTQ advocates.” Big surprise there. The story goes on. “The country’s politicians approved the bill on Tuesday. The new law defines marriage as between a man and a woman and asserts that the ‘foundation of the family is marriage and the parent child relationship. The mother is a woman. The father is a man.'” Now, how many times do we have to come back to ask the question, how in the world could this be controversial?

What has to happen for this to become controversial? That statement, if articulated say just a matter of 20 years ago would be so apparently true, so self-evidently true that it would be uncontroversial but not anymore because of the redefinition of the family that’s taken place. Now this is where Christians have to understand that we are in the same outlaw position as the nation of Hungary. We have no choice but to define family, marriage for that matter, motherhood and fatherhood in biblical terms. But if Hungary is now an outlaw, then if you hold to a biblical definition of marriage, family, parenthood, mother, father, then you are an outlaw as well. For that matter, just consider how much more of an outlaw you may be because of the revolutionary directions that are now reshaping American culture. You are going to be an outlaw. Your family is going to be an outlaw.

All it took for Hungary to become an outlaw was to say that the mother is a woman and the father is a man. David Vig identified as director of Amnesty International, Hungary, shortened to Amnesty, Hungary said that, “This is a dark day for Hungary’s LGBTQ community and a dark day for human rights.” Again, what we see here is the corruption of the category of human rights as if there is a human right for a mother to be anything other than a woman or a human right for anyone to be other than a man if he is a father. We’re looking at the corruption of language, we are looking at the subversion of the entire moral order. But the point here is that, Hungary is pressing back. Hungary is saying, we’re not going to abandon the entire order of creation. We’re not going to pretend, we’re not going to act as if we actually think that a mother can be anything other than female or a father, anything other than male.

No, and this is really crucial. And this is particularly courageous on the part of Hungary. They are not willing to act as if they think it doesn’t matter when it comes to rearing children. Now, there are so many things to watch here. One of them has to do with the response of the European Union. The European Union has mechanisms of coercion. It is trying to use against Hungary. It will continue to try to use against Hungary. And furthermore, you have the fact that there are all kinds of issues that are related to this but one thing becomes very central. Hungary has decided to be Hungary. And by the way, that is a similar attitude to at least what we saw give birth to the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom. That was the claim that Britain should simply be Britain. And so, what you have here is a reminder of the fact that the moral unit of the nation still turns out to be incredibly significant.

The new powers that have been granted to the executive in Hungary by this constitutional reform as it has been called. And of course, that means most importantly, the executive who is the prime minister, Viktor Orban, these newly increased powers also set Hungary at odds with the vision of the form of a rightful government that is now prevailing in the European Union. Now, there are all kinds of arguments to be made here but the point is eventually, every nation’s culture does determine its political structure one way or the other. Over time, that will eventually become true. And what is true right now and very evident in the experiment to Viktor Orban in Hungary is that, the people of Hungary actually want this kind of constitutional order. They want this kind of definition of family. They want these kinds of rules concerning adoption and they are going to define themselves.

First of all, in terms of being citizens of Hungary, or Hungarians, as we would call them over against what many are now claiming should be their primary allegiance, which is as Europeans to the European Union.

Now, for Christian thinking, let’s just remind ourselves that this underlines the principle of subsidiarity that tells us that, the smaller unit is actually morally superior to the larger unit. The smaller unit is more important to the functioning of civilization than the larger unit. And that’s true all the way down to the smallest unit of all, which is marriage and the family. The family as parents with children. And that’s that controversial term again, mother and father, as meaning the mother is a woman, the father is a man. But then expanding from that natural family to the larger context of extended family and kinship and then neighborhood and community and of course the church, is one of these very important circles as it comes to Christians understanding the principle of subsidiarity. But then you get beyond that to the city and to the county and to the state and to the nation.

You can see how far out the ring would be for the European Union. By any cogent, any honest Christian analysis, the European Union would be way out there in terms of ultimate allegiance but it is demanding primary allegiance. The New York Times in its report by Benjamin Novak, reminds us that there was similar legislation on the parallel issue of transgender. As earlier this year, “The government adopted legislation tying an individual’s gender to the person’s sex and chromosomes at birth–the first law of its kind in Europe and a clear attack on transgender rights.” There you see how the New York Times reports it, the most important thing about it according to the New York times is that, it is according to the Times a clear attack upon transgender rights. There’s that issue of rights again, it’s a corrupted understanding of rights as if someone has the right to say, yes, I have XY chromosomes but I’m a woman.

I have XX chromosomes but I’m a man. For now, or somewhere on a non-binary reality, a continuum and where I am now, I may not be this afternoon, deal with it. It’s going to be very, very interesting, by the way, to see how the incoming Biden administration relates to Hungary. That is a very important test. I think we have a pretty good idea of where that’s going to go but we need to watch it attentively, anyway. One of the criticisms that was made of Donald Trump and of the Trump administration was that it had increasingly friendly relations with governments, such as that of Hungary, or for that matter other nations very much like Hungary allied with Hungary. Poland would be perhaps the most important of those nations. Again, resisting the moral revolutionaries at the very point that the moral revolutionaries are making their most revolutionary demands.

Part III

The Sexual Revolution Wages Comprehensive War Against Creation and the Creator, Even in the Kingdom of Bhutan

But next, having traveled from the United States to Hungary similarly, we’re going to travel from Hungary to Bhutan, a small landlocked nation within the Himalayan mountains. And it’s achieving also headline news in the New York Times this week. The headline in the article by Mike Ives is this, “Bhutan dials back laws, criminalizing gay sex.” Now, the most important issue here is that gay sex that is sex between two men is no longer defined as being unnatural or against nature in Bhutan.

Now, where does that language, where does that notion come from? Well, in one sense, it comes from the Western legal and moral tradition but beyond that, it comes from biblical Christianity against nature as language used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. But furthermore, Paul also makes clear in Romans 1, that it is embedded in natural law. In the creation order, it is right there in natural revelation, such that virtually every civilization has come to understand sex between two men as unnatural.

But of course, the moral revolutionaries went right at that argument. In the United States of America right now, what used to be taken as national policy, it was national law is now an outlaw idea but of course, Christians are bound to it because we’re bound to scripture. And it’s right there. It’s right there in Genesis one, if you’ll see it. It’s certainly there in Romans one explicitly. But there are a couple of other issues here. And that comes down to huge questions such as, what does it mean to violate nature?

Well, as it comes to the biblical teaching. That means to violate God’s plan, to violate God’s design but he also gave us explicit laws. Against nature, in Romans 1, comes after as if human beings are sinfulness and not already misread nature, it comes after explicit biblical commands that God gave to Israel and to the church and to all people concerning how we are to regulate human sexuality and define marriage.

But there’s another question here and it has to do with this. And you would think this would be a pretty humbling question for any government. If there was an understanding that anything, A, B, C, D, E, or F whatever was against nature or unnatural, what kind of authority does a government have to make natural that which is unnatural? Or you could ask another question. What under this moral understanding with the government of Bhutan or for that matter of any nation these days considered to be against nature, or is nature no longer a meaningful category?

Well, here’s what Christians need to understand. If you’re going to press this moral revolution, if you’re going to transform the family sexuality, gender, if you’re going to redefine parents so that you don’t need a mother and a father, then guess what, you are at comprehensive war against nature. And if you are in a comprehensive war against creation, you’re in a comprehensive war against the creator but as Romans one makes clear, that story does not end well.

The only rescue comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Part IV

The Legacy of John le Carré, Master Spy Novelist: The Problem of Moral Ambiguity in Life and in Literature

But finally, we’re going to look at the legacy of spies, particularly the legacy of one spy novelist. In this case, it was John le Carré, who lived from 1921 to just a few days ago, dying at age 89 of pneumonia. John le Carré was not born. John le Carré, he was born John David Moore Cornwall, and he didn’t just write about spies, he was one. At one point working for both MI5 and MI6 on behalf of the British government and did some of the most interesting places and during the most interesting times of the Cold War. He decided to become a novelist but as at then current civil servant within Britain, he was not allowed to write under his own name. The British government suggested all kinds of names that weren’t very good at all. He chose for himself the name, John le Carré.

And of course, he became quite famous in 1963 as John le Carré with the release of his book that became a bestseller, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Over the course of the next almost six decades, John le Carré issued a series of bestselling books and he became a dominant author in the field. But from a Christian worldview perspective, there were some very interesting particulars here.

One was John le Carré’s life. Remember, he was born John David Moore Cornwall. His father was a poser. And that according to John le Carré himself, his father lived a somewhat artificial life. At one point, it’s poor, at other points, rich but posing more than anything else. He learned a very great deal. During the Cold War, John le Carré as a spy and a diplomat posted by Britain across the world. But most particularly in places of great interest to the Cold War, he saw the espionage business right up close, and he understood it at the very peak of the conflict between the United States and the West on one side and the Soviet Union and its block of nations on the other side.

But in a Christian worldview perspective, the most important thing to understand about John le Carré is the fact that he was totally invested in moral ambiguity. As you look back to say the 1950, ’60, ’70s and beyond, the spy thriller genre took on an entire new emphasis and popularity. It largely replaced a murder mysteries, which had been very much a fixture in English literature. The spy thriller became the new thing to read.

And by the way, one of the assumptions of the crime novel, the old murder novel is that it took a Christian worldview to produce a decent murder novel. As a matter of fact, both Catholics and Protestants prided themselves in the English speaking tradition in producing high quality crime novels. It takes a very clear sense of an objective transcendent, right and wrong. And to the ability to get into the complexities of the human conscience to pull off a decent crime novel, certainly a murder novel. But when it comes to espionage, it turns out that right and wrong become more ambiguous, especially in the hands of John le Carré.

Because of his popularity and growing wealth as a writer, John le Carré left the British civil service. He left the espionage business with MI5 and MI6 and became a full-time writer. But by the time he died, there would be headlines such as this, the writer of moral compromises, or front-page obituary in the New York Times, author of Cold War thrillers defined by moral ambiguities.

Now, here’s something that’s also interesting. As you look at the spy novel or beyond that, you look at the reality behind it. The Christian worldview does respond to this with a measure of well, difficult and critical thinking. Because after all, even as some Christians in the business of spycraft and espionage have admitted, you are trying to entice people to abandon what are their most important commitments, which is to their own country. If you don’t have people who abandoned their country and betray it, then you don’t have spies. You don’t have spycraft. You certainly don’t have the espionage that became the order of the day between the Soviet Union and the United States with the rest of the West, during the Cold War.

And for that matter, espionage continues. Spycraft continues. Just think of the recent headlines concerning the disclosure of a member of the United States Congress who had been compromised by a spy from China. And that was in 1963, that’s recent history, maybe even recent times, maybe even the present. As the New York Times noted, Mr. le Carré “portrayed British intelligence operations as cesspools of ambiguity in which right and wrong are too close to call. And in which it is rarely obvious whether the ends, even if the ends are clear justify the means.” Another article days later in the same newspaper, this one by Dwight Garner suggested that Mr. le Carré was “a sane, sophisticated, morally ambiguous writer who possessed a vision of recent history, whether the Cold War discord in the Middle East or adventures in torture at American detention camps in the wake of September 11.”

The next sentence was this, “His novels delivered tutorials in how to brood in fiction without toppling into pretension. His spies knew how to handle themselves in tight spots but the action in a le Carré novel is largely internal. His books are a rebuke to the action man flexing in Ian Fleming’s, James Bond novels.” And Le Carré understood himself in just that light. And by the way, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, at least the original ones was also himself in some sense, a British spy.

The moral difficulties of coming to terms with the ethics of spycraft were made very clear in a recent book by James M. Olson, who’s the former chief of CIA Counterintelligence in the United States. Its title was Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying. It’s actually a pretty big book because in spying, there are a lot of moral dilemmas and the book certainly doesn’t exhaust them all. Olson’s point was this, “I will concede that spying is a dirty business but my question is this, what’s the alternative, no intelligence?”

What in the final analysis do Christians think about this? Well, Christians do not deny moral complexity. That’s very important. There are circumstances whether it ranges from biomedical ethics to the context of war that are very morally complicated. Spycraft and espionage are certainly at the top of that list but Christians understand that there is no ultimate refuge in a cave of moral ambiguity, is the Christian’s responsibility to work through the complexities and seeking to apply scriptural wisdom and understanding a transcendent order and objective morality to come to terms with how one must conduct a necessary business in a way that does not mean that one forfeits one soul. My main criticism of the kind of espionage work written by John le Carré is not that he dives deeply into and considers thoughtfully moral ambiguity. The problem is that he leaves the issue there. That’s where he leaves the reader.

There’s the danger. That’s where the Christian worldview says that we do recognize contexts of moral ambiguity but we can never resign to that ambiguity or find refuge there. That’s not where the story can end.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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