The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

It’s Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

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

Part I

U.S. State Department Declares That China’s Oppression of Uyghurs Is Genocide: Why Is This Formal Declaration So Important?

There are so many big issues on the global landscape, some of them rather complex, some of them apparently simple, some of them quite difficult to understand, some of them rather transparent and understanding the moral and worldview issues that are at stake. One of the more transparent issues, easy to understand in terms of its evil, would be the oppression of the Uyghur people on the part of the communist Chinese regime. This has gone on for a matter of years now, and it has moved from concentration camps to what is now globally acknowledged to be an effort basically to wipe out an entire people, a very numerous people from even the living memory of China.

But this moral issue comes very much to mind in the context of the presidential transition here in the United States. When you have a transition, not only between two presidents, but nowadays between two parties, you are looking at what amounts to two different foreign policies, two different models of international engagement. It wasn’t always so. You could look back through most of the 20th century and the differences between administrations, when it came to foreign policy, they were not defined so much as Democrat and Republican, but that has changed and now you’re looking at two different views of the world.

Now that doesn’t mean that the state department, as an institution, swings wildly when you think of those who are a part of the permanent state department between the right and the left, between two different models of international engagement. No, when you look at the state department, you have to make a distinction between the political appointees and the careerists, the career diplomats and administrators, you could use the word bureaucrats within the state department. Their intention is to maintain their own institutional view of the world as the official policy of the United States.

And every president, regardless of party, has come to great frustration with the state department. Former president Harry Truman, a Democrat back during the 1940s, referred to the state department as, “the stripey pants boys,” the self-appointed experts who fought his own efforts, for example, to oppose the Soviet union. I would argue that one of the achievements of the Trump administration was a change in American foreign policy, especially when it came to defending religious liberty and human rights around the world in a way that previous administrations and many in an ongoing institutionalism of the state department did not appreciate.

And all this comes to the fore with the transition and the month of January. Back just before the inauguration of President Joseph Biden, the United States state department under the leadership of then Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, officially identified China as having committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghur people.

Now remember, the Uyghur people are a subculture within China. They are identified with a certain strain of Islam and they do not fit in to the Chinese communist party’s idea of the national identity of China. Edward Wong and Chris Buckley reporting on the declaration by the state department back just before the inauguration wrote, “The State Department declared on Tuesday that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its wide-scale repression of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, including in its use of internment camps and forced sterilization.”

Now, there is so much in that lead paragraph. Notice that the Chinese government is here accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. That’s not accidental language. It’s also not accidental that that formal declaration came before the Trump administration left office and during the time that Mike Pompeo was the US Secretary of State. Many in the national media and in the foreign policy establishment accused the former Secretary of State of trying to put pressure on the Biden administration in coming to maintain a very hard line against China, especially on these issues.

Of course, the engagement with China covers a waterfront of issues and China looms large as the greatest competitor to the United States on the world scene in terms of influence and modeling. As a matter of fact, in the article by Wong and Buckley, we read this, “Foreign policy officials and experts across the political spectrum in the United States say China will be the greatest challenge for any administration for decades to come.” It is as if we look to China right now the way that people in much of the West look to the Soviet Union and the communist block from the end of World War II looking decades ahead. It was clear, even as Winston Churchill made very clear in his famous Iron Curtain address given in Fulton, Missouri, it is very clear now, as it was very clear then, that the United States and the West face one great ideological, political, and moral competitor on the world scene.

Of course, it’s an economic competitor as well. Some people would like to reduce the equation to mere economics and justify just about any engagement with or cooperation with China on economic terms. Others would argue that we just have to face the fact that China is a massive nuclear armed world power with expansionist aims and there’s little the United States can do to curtail it, in terms of its international engagement, much less its internal affairs. But one of the hallmarks of American foreign policy has been the fact that imperfect as we are, American administrations over the course of the last decades have learned to put an emphasis on, and maintain a focus on the morality of regimes.

This isn’t always easy in a fallen world. For one thing, there are no morally perfect regimes. There are only regimes that, to a greater or lesser effect, respect human dignity and maintain a peaceful role in the world of nations. But declaring China, officially declaring China to be guilty of crimes against humanity and committing genocide against the Uyghur people does put a very clear focus on American policy. And it does him in, the new President of the United States and his newly nominated Secretary of State, Tony Blinken. Anthony Blinken, by the way, is expected to be confirmed as the next Secretary of State of the United States today.

It’s also very interesting to know that even as Joe Biden, now President Biden, and the incoming Secretary of State have given indications that they want to change the mode of US engagement with many nations, including China. In his confirmation hearings, Blinken was very clear, he had to be, that he would continue the policy of identifying China as guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide. He has little choice because the evidence is so clear.

In the official declaration released the day before the Biden inauguration, then Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said, “I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghur by the Chinese party state.” Later in the article Wong and Buckley note, “The determination of atrocities is a rare action on the part of the state department and could lead the United States to impose more sanctions against China under the new Biden administration. President elect, Joseph R. Biden Jr.”–he was then–“said last year through a spokesman that the policies by Beijing amounted to genocide.”

Now, we’re using a word here, indeed we’re using two terms, crimes against humanity and genocide. Where do those come from? Well, the notion of crimes against humanity goes back to the 19th century, but especially the term came to prominence in the 20th century in the allegations of gross moral injustice and misbehavior, leading to the deaths of millions by regimes such as Imperial Germany in the First World War and Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The term came into a more general use in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and were associated with the war crimes that were prosecuted at the famous Nuremberg Trials.

But the term genocide is a bit different. It emerged during World War II, indeed the origin of the word is believed to go back to 1944 and an author named Raphael Lemkin. He wrote a book about the Axis rule of occupied Europe and he identified genocide as the intentional attempt to erase an entire people from the face of the earth. Now, the word genocide in English is well understood these days as primarily historically associated with the Holocaust against the Jews undertaken by the Third Reich. By the time we gained a few years after World War II, even as during the war it was undeniable that the Nazis were undertaking an effort to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe. After the war and especially after the Nuremberg Trials, it became very apparent through documents that were obtained that this was a systematic and strategic plan undertaken by the official authority of the Nazi regime.

In 1948, the United Nations adopted what became known as the Genocide Convention. And remember, the United Nations was a very new body at the time, and that convention identified genocide as, “Acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national ethnic, racial, or religious group as such.” Now this could include the killing of the population. It could also include injuring or mental harm. It usually has to do directly with killing members of the population simply because they are identified by a certain ethnicity or religion or other kind of national identity. But it also comes down, as the convention on genocide makes clear, to efforts to end a population by use of something like forced sterilization, forced abortion, and infanticide. And those are among the very well-documented charges that the state department brought against the Chinese communist party.

But that is actually the part of this moral issue that is fairly easy to understand, the inherent evil of trying to eliminate any group from the face of the planet, the inherent evil of a government turning in a murderous way upon its own people. And of course, there’s more to it than murder as we saw with forced sterilization and other kinds of efforts. But the harder question morally and politically is, so what?

So, what happens once the United States has made this declaration? Do other nations follow? If so, so what? What can be done about this? And here we see one of the most vexing problems on the international scene. It’s one thing to declare a nation to be acting in gross, moral evil. It’s another thing to stop it. The 20th century is in one sense a sad account of Western efforts to try to do that, largely failed accounts until it came to total war. The account of the Pompeo declaration in The Wall Street Journal, the article was written by Michael R. Gordon and Eva Xiao. It included the fact that, “The genocide designation, which also applies to other minority groups, doesn’t carry any automatic legal consequences, but it puts pressure on other nations and US allies in particular to consider sanctions and take other steps to condemn Beijing’s policies.”

Now notice the fact that this doesn’t appear to be extremely strong action. Thinking about this through the lens of a biblical worldview, one of the things this simply underlines is the fact that there is no international police to whom we can turn. There is no real international court of justice. This is the Christian principle, a subsidiarity that points to the reality that there is no overarching global authority that can act like a global police in this kind of matter. Furthermore, we’re looking at the fact that it’s not even clear that a group such as the United Nations would respond with equal moral clarity. It’s not even clear that some of the most crucial allies of the United States will join in this kind of moral clarity.

Why? Well, it’s because in a deeply complicated political and economically complex world, many nations are going to act in their own best interest and offending China is not in their calculation in their own best interest. But at least we can recognize, and this is very important for Christians in particular, we can recognize that we know there is an objective right and an objective wrong. We understand that it is because that’s the very creation of the moral universe as the creator has made it. And furthermore, we have God’s special revelation in scripture that tells us very explicitly that acts like this are unmitigated evil and must be recognized as such.

I’m thankful that in its outgoing hours, the Trump administration state department made this kind of declaration. It may have come late, but it came in a very important and clear way. I’m also thankful for the fact that the declaration having been made as it was, the incoming Biden administration and the incoming Secretary of State said that they will stand by the judgment. Time will tell. We’re about to find out whether or not the American government and this administration and our key allies who supposedly stand for a regime of human rights really believe what we say and are willing to do something about it, even if it’s costly.

Part II

The End of Girls’ Sports? The Transgender Revolution, Backed by the Biden Administration, Is on a Direct Collision Course with Female Athletics (And Much More)

But next, we turn to another aspect of the change in administrations and this takes us to one of the most pressing issues on the cultural front. And it takes us to President Joe Biden’s first day in office. And then it takes us to an article written in The Wall Street Journal by Abigail Shrier. The headline, “Joe Biden’s First Day Began the End of Girls’ Sports.” I repeat it, “Joe Biden’s First Day,” that means as president, “Began the End of Girls’ Sports.” I mention that among the executive orders that the president signed on his first day in office was one that basically declared that there must be no discrimination in any school system that receives federal funds when it comes to all the letters of LGBT and Q.

The order that was released by the president on the 20th of January, Inauguration Day, includes these words, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” But look at that language very closely. Understand that in that language is an entire revolution when it comes to morality. Because what it means is that the federal government is saying that any school system that receives federal funds, and that’s just about every single public school system in the country, can no longer discriminate when it comes to gender identity. And that means you’re going to have biological males in the girl’s locker room. And it also means, as Abigail Shrier very presciently points out, the effective end of girls’ sports. And we have seen this coming.

The transgender revolution is not only in direct collision with the religious liberty when it comes to citizens who, based upon religious conviction, can’t accept the transgender revolution, can’t accept the transgender definitions. But what we see here is the fact that it is also a direct collision with feminism and with the goals of feminism. It’s a direct collision with creation, as we have noted several times. Creation indicates that it’s meaningful to recognize the categories of male and female, not only meaningful, but essential. And that means male and female, that would include mother, father, brother, sister, it would include man and woman, it also includes boy and girls. As in boys’ room, boys’ locker room, girls’ room, girls’ locker room. It also means girls’ sports.

Now, one of the interesting things you see these days is that there is an enormous cultural celebration of girls’ sports. It has been a massive expanding part of our culture. If you look back during most of the 20th century, almost all the sports coverage in the United States about, for example, high school or collegiate sport was about boys and young men. That was it. There were no major girls’ sports. There were no major women’s teams. Or if there were such, they didn’t receive much funding from institutions, such as schools, they didn’t receive much cultural prominence. But all that did begin to change, especially with the adoption of what became known as Title IX of the Education Act of 1972.

Title IX said that there must be something like parity between men’s and women’s sports in higher education. And that followed through the logic that there must be some kind of parity between boys’ and girls’ sports in high schools. It also meant that there would be a change in the culture when it came to boys and girls of all ages, whether they be children or teenagers, when it came to organized sport. But there’s something else absolutely crucial about Title IX. And it wasn’t just in 1972. The fact is that Title IX only makes sense if biology determines who is a girl and who is a boy and that girls remain girls and boys remain boys.

As a matter of fact, if you look at the restrictions that were put upon institutions, particularly colleges and universities, by Title IX, the reality is that everything breaks down if you no longer know who is male and who is female. The point Abigail Shrier is making, beginning with the headline of her article in The Wall Street Journal last week, is that Inauguration Day with this executive order actually began the termination of girls’ sports. Shrier wrote these words, “Amid Inauguration Day talk of shattered glass ceilings,” on Inauguration Day last Wednesday, “President Biden delivered a body blow to the rights of women and girls, the executive order on preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. On day one,” she wrote, “Mr. Biden placed all girls’ sports and women’s safe spaces in the cross hairs of the administrative state.”

That’s not an exaggeration. If anything, it is an understatement because now you’re going to see an entire army of lawyers and activists press through to make certain that this executive order is applied in every imaginable dimension. Furthermore, the spillover effect of this kind of executive order means that it won’t be limited even to the institutions and contexts that are explicitly covered by the order. That’s not the way the moral revolution works. A moral revolution proceeds because this then sends a signal for coercive action by others. And you can count on the fact that signal has been sent and it has been received.

Shrier talked to Olympic track and field coach, Linda Blade, who told her, “Finished. Done. The leadership skills, all the benefits society gets from letting girls have their protected category so that competition can be fair, all the advances of women’s rights, that’s going to be diminished.” Shrier then writes, “Ms. Blade noted that parents of teen girls are generally uninterested in watching their daughters demoralized by the blatant unfairness of a rigged competition.” Shrier then writes this, “I say rigged because in contest of strength and speed, the athletic chasm between the sexes, which opens at puberty, is both permanent and unbridgeable. Once male puberty is complete, testosterone suppression doesn’t undo the biological advantages men possess. Larger hearts, lungs, and bones, greater bone density, more oxygenated blood, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, and vastly greater muscle mass.”

She then writes this, pay attention to these words, “It should be no surprise then that the two trans-identified biological males permitted to compete in Connecticut State track finals against girls, neither of whom was a top sprinter as a boy, consistently claimed top spots competing as girls. They eliminated girls from advancement to regional championships, scouting, and scholarship opportunities and trophies and they set records no girl may ever equal.” She then goes on. “How big is this performance gap? To take one example cited by the Connecticut female runners in their complaint against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the fastest female sprinter in the world is American runner Allyson Felix, a woman with more gold medals than Usain Bolt. Her lifetime best for the 400-meter run is 49.26 seconds. Based on 2018 data, nearly 300 high-school boys in the U.S. alone could beat it.” In other words, it’s biology.

Christians understand that we never just believe it’s biology. As Christians understand, if it’s rooted in a central biology, it’s rooted in creation. It’s that simple. It’s very interesting to see how many people want to be seen as right-minded when it comes to the moral and sexual revolution. They want to at least appear to be all for, gung-ho for the changes in morality that are now demanded. But how many of those people, upper middle-class parents who want to be seen as on the right side of history, how many of them actually mean it if it means that their daughter isn’t going to get the sports scholarship because a biological male identifying as female is going to win the trophy instead? Just how far is this going to go? How many parents, no matter how liberal they think themselves to be, how many of them are actually ready for there to be unisex changing rooms? For locker rooms, basically, to be determined in terms of admission basically by however one identifies when it comes to sex and gender? How ready are they? Furthermore, how ready are their daughters?

Part III

Biden Administration Ends Ban on Transgender Military Service, But the Moral Revolution Demands Even More

But as we bring this addition of The Briefing to an end, let’s remind ourselves that just yesterday The White House released a new policy stating that it was reversing the Trump administration’s order concerning the service of transgender individuals in the United States military. Once again, it is written in language that is supposed to represent moral liberation. But as you look at the article, you come to understand, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Even if you want to join the revolution, how exactly do you pull this off?

In one very interesting and telling portion of the coverage of the decision made yesterday is the fact that about one out of nine of those in the US military who identify as transgender identify as having a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, that is the newly invented situation in which by diagnosis, someone is said to identify one way when it comes to sex and yet is having to handle a biological reality that is otherwise. So the answer to that overwhelmingly is generally considered what’s called reassignment surgery.

There’s some massive questions that come immediately to mind in that category and also in that number, that percentage of one out of nine. What about the other eight out of nine? How exactly do they identify? How is the United States military supposed to deal with this? The brand new, newly confirmed Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, until recently retired four-star General Lloyd Austin, the first black Secretary of Defense in American history and that a very important historical milestone, he nonetheless indicated that he is absolutely gung-ho with the new policy: “I truly believe that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

Well, he declared himself on the right side of the administration’s policy here. He declared himself on I’m sure what he thinks is the right side of history. But the question is, how exactly is that going to work in the United States military? It’s one thing to establish such a policy in theory, it’s another thing to figure out exactly how this is supposed to work.

It’s significant that yesterday an article appeared in The Washington Post by Giselle Donnelly, David Barno, and Nora Bensahel with the headline, Biden has lifted the military trans ban, but there’s more work to do. One of those authors is transgender, at least one of them, but the point is, this is a political signal. The trans ban has been lifted, “but there’s more work to do.”

The moral revolution has just claimed a very big victory, but it’s not satisfied. It’s pressing on. The headline tells us right there in words.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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