The Briefing

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The Briefing

Friday, February 26, 2021

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It's Friday, February 26, 2021.

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

Part

U.S. House of Representatives Passes the Equality Act: The Battle Between Religious Liberty and the Newly-Invented Rights of the Sexual Revolution Now Moves to the Senate

Well, the big news out of Washington DC is that the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act. On Monday of this week on The Briefing, we went into considerable detail about what this particular legislation represents, and why it is such a threat to religious liberty, such a head-on collision between the newly invented and declared sexual liberties, and religious liberty as is articulated and defended and respected in the Constitution of the United States.

We're looking here at newly invented rights, and I'll go so far as to say artificial rights, that are now placed on a collision course and, have an advantage over the actual fundamental rights thar are explicitly articulated in the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. You look to the Constitution, you will not find LGBTQ rights mentioned, nor will you find anything that goes by any other name that comes anywhere close to claiming particular rights here. What you do see, is the positive guarantee of respectful religious liberty. But what we have seen, is the world turned upside down, and in the House of Representatives it was turned upside down by a vote of 224 to 206.

Now, that margin is not more overwhelming simply because it reflects to a large degree a party line vote. Almost all the Democrats voted for the bill, and only three Republicans voted for the bill, the rest opposed it. The three Republicans who dared to vote for the Equality Act were representative John Katko, a Republican of New York, another Republican of New York, Tom Reed, and Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania. What are we looking at here? Notice that all three are from the Northeast. Two of them from the state of New York, and thus we're looking at one of the very rare representations of Republicans who are in more liberal districts in more liberal regions of the nation. But still, the 224 to 206 vote was rather close.

But in this case, it really doesn't matter how close it was, the bill has passed the House of Representatives, and it did so with the eager support of the Speaker of the House, Democratic representative Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and also of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Biden, who as candidate and now as President has pledged that he would not only support the equality act, but he pledged even before his election that he would do his best to sign this legislation into law within the first 100 days of his administration.

Now, here's what's so important, this bill amends the civil rights act to explicitly include categories driven by the LGBTQ activist community in the civil rights act, and thus obligatory across the entire United States, a part of the law of the United States. The historic consequence of the legislation, was acknowledged by the Speaker of the House who said, "The Civil Rights Act is a sacred pillar of freedom in our country, it is not amended lightly." And indeed, it is not amended lightly, and this is no light amendment. And as you're thinking about the religious liberty dimension, just recognize this bill, the bill in the form that was passed yesterday by the House of Representatives, has no significant religious liberty protections at all. Basically, none.

The drama will now shift to the United States Senate, and the fate of the legislation ultimately will rest with the decision of the Senate. Now, think about what's set up at this point, you have the equality act it passed in the last Congress in the House, it failed even to come up for a vote in the Senate because of Republican control. It is now passed in the Democratic dominated house, and goes to a Senate which is now after the 2020 election, also under Democratic control. But Democrats have exactly 50 votes, the Republicans have exactly 50 votes. The reason that the Democrats are in the majority, is because there is an elected Democratic Vice President of the United States, who by the Constitution is also the presiding officer of the Senate, and casts deciding votes when there is a tie in a Senate count. And in this case, you're looking at the fact that, if 51 were a sufficient number to pass the legislation, then the equality act would be sliding right from the House to the Senate, through the Senate to the President for signature.

But it won't require only 50 votes, it won't require only 51 votes, it would require at least 60 votes in order for the Senate to have cloture, which means it has the ability to bring the legislation to the floor. This is the so-called filibuster rule. And if there are not 60 votes, then the opposing party, in this case the Republicans, can filibuster the bill, and it would effectively fail. But this is where we see a major battle brewing, and it's a lot more interesting even than just this particular very urgent issue of legislation. It has to do with the fact that the Democrats, now in the majority, controlling the House, controlling the Senate, and with a Democratic president in the White House, there is enormous pressure to end the filibuster rule in the Senate, such that the Democrats will be able to get this legislation and subsequent legislation through with merely a majority of the votes, not needing at least 60 votes or a super majority for legislation to get to the floor and eventually to pass.

But this sets up an enormous complication for the Democrats in the majority. Their liberal base is clamoring, demanding for the Senate's majority to end the filibuster. But what would that mean? Well, it would mean that not only on this bill but on all subsequent bills, not only in this Congress but in all subsequent Congresses, the Senate rule or the filibuster would basically be gone and legislation could go through the Senate never requiring a super majority vote, never requiring any kind of bipartisan consensus. But here's the issue, the Democrats on the left see this as a tremendous opportunity, end the filibuster, and of course they're only thinking about the present not the future, but that's understandable, that's human nature in one sense, but they're thinking this is a great opportunity. We end the filibuster, we'll get the Equality Act, we can push through anything we want because with 51 votes, we can't lose.

But here's the problem, their base will eventually understand that. They will have the 51 votes, and if they end the filibuster they can't lose, so that's going to put Democrats evermore on the hot seat in their own party, and in those critical swing districts, because if the filibuster rule is removed, the party in the majority has not only more power, it has enormously more accountability and it runs infinitely more risk.

Now, looking back just a matter of months ago, it wasn't at all clear that the filibuster rule might be tested first of all in this Senate in a really meaningful way, on a bill that had anything to do with sexuality, gender, LGBTQ issues, but that's just how it has shaped up. This will be the one great bill first to the line, that will raise the issue in the Senate of the filibuster. And the reason for that's actually simple in itself, and that is that the Democrats can't muster 60 votes in favor of the equality act in the Senate, that would require some Republican votes. They might conceivably get one or two Republican votes, but it really isn't imaginable that they would get many more. But that's where, as I discussed on The Briefing on Monday, all that could change if you basically have a cosmetic game of artificial protections for religious liberty that are offered by amendment, and thus it looks like they've decided to give some protections and acknowledgment to religious liberty that might provide some political cover for at least some Republicans to vote for the legislation.

And, make no mistake, many in the Republican party want to get past this issue, they want it simply to go away, let there be a vote to approve something like the equality act and then move on. But that's where Christians understand, if we actually move on under those terms, we are moving on into a direct threat of religious liberty, and we're looking at the fact that it will be very difficult for Christian schools, Christian colleges, Christian ministries, even in some cases for the ministries of Christian churches to proceed under the action that will be taken in amending the civil rights act. This will change not just a few things, it will fundamentally change almost everything on the nation's landscape. We'll be watching what happens.

The big news that happened this week, it happened yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the equality act. Again, the number was 224 to 206, the number in the Senate, will tell us a big story about the future of the United States. Not just on this issue, but on other issues as well.

Part

The Character of the Transgender Revolution Made Clear During Senate Confirmation Hearing for Doctor Nominated by President Biden

But meanwhile, something else of important and our interest, took place in the United States Senate, particularly in one committee of the Senate. Yesterday, in a hearing on the potential confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine, the President's nominee for Assistant Health Secretary. Now, back on the 21st of January, on The Briefing, we discussed this particular nomination in detail. The bottom line is that, people close to President Biden and the major media, all reported this story with the critical information, and this became the leading edge of the news that Dr. Rachel Levine, it confirmed, would become the first openly transgender individual to be so confirmed by the United States Senate. The historic nature of the nomination didn't have anything to do with this doctor's medical qualifications, coming from a state office in Pennsylvania, but rather with the transgender identity and the fact that candidate Joe Biden and President Joe Biden, made very clear he was aiming for a very clear and emphatic identity politics driven understanding of diversity within his appointments and at the senior level. And this is a Senate-confirmed position.

But yesterday in the hearings, the key exchange came between Dr. Levine, the openly transgender nominee, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. As Stephanie Armour of the Wall Street Journal reports, Senator Paul asked the nominee about support for children and adolescents who identify as transgender. Now, remember, the big media angle on this is that, Dr. Levine would be the first openly transgender individual to be confirmed by the United States Senate. But not just to any position, Dr. Levine has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. So germane to this is not just the fact that Dr. Levine is openly transgender, but that Dr. Levine would be in charge of establishing much health policy, including that which would be associated with transgender identity, so-called gender transition, and the medical procedures that might be involved, and that would include not only surgical procedures but also drugs.

And those hormonal drugs became a part of Senator Paul's questions. He went on to say, "We should be outraged that someone's talking to a three-year-old about changing their sex." Now, Senator Rand Paul is also a medical doctor, in his case he's an ophthalmologist. When asked this question by Senator Paul and a follow up question, Dr. Levine offered basically the same answer, and we really need to look very closely at this answer. It's a just a few words, but in these words are not only a basic obfuscation, that is an evasion or a confusion of the issue, but also a claim that does turn the entire creation order upside down. Here's what Dr. Levine said in answer to both of Senator Paul's questions, "Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field, with robust research and standards of care that have been developed."

Now, does that say something? If it does say something, does it say much? If it does say anything at all, how dangerous is what Dr. Levine said? Well, it turns out that it doesn't say much, but what it says is very dangerous. As a matter of fact, what we're being told here is something that only makes sense within the ideology of the LGBTQ revolutionary. Saying that transgender medicine, by the way, just think about that, those two words are now put together as if that makes sense. Transgender medicine, is a very complex and nuanced field, that's where you're saying, "I'm not going to give any clear answer." But, the claim here is that the field comes with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.

Now, here's what we need to know, those standards of care, even those that have been developed, are extremely recent and they are not established over any significant period of time, that would be required basically of any other area of medical care. We're looking at the fact that the sexual revolutionaries have put so much pressure upon the medical community, as well as other sectors of society, that you have this kind of answer, and of course there's the claim that all of this comes with the authority of science, in this case reduced to robust research. And the standards of care are presented as if they are chiseled into stone in the history of the practice of medicine, but that is not the case.

And furthermore, we're now in a situation where those standards of care, are explicitly and, if we just look honestly, they're driven by ideology and politics as much as, if not more than, by medicine.

Part

What Do Christians and Atheists Think about Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity? The Moral and Theological Distinctions of the Christian and Atheistic Worldviews

But next we're going to change issues by looking at some recent scientific research, that has incredibly important worldview significance. In this case, the research is reported at the site live science. The editor and reporter in this case, is Laura Geggel, and the headline is this, "Atheist and believers have different moral compasses." That's very interesting. Atheists and believers we're told, have different moral compasses.

Now, we as Christians understand that that's the very issue of the importance of worldview. The clash of worldviews between belief in God and disbelief in God, has to be so massive that of course we would be operating respectively with different moral frameworks, the most basic fundamentally different moral frameworks. But this is presented as scientific evidence of the fact that it's been discovered, that atheists and believers have different moral compasses. The report says this, "In some respects, the moral compass was incredibly alight between the two groups, they both highly rated fairness and protecting the wellbeing of vulnerable people, for instance, and both highly endorsed liberty but not oppression. However," the report says, "the group diverged when it came to matters of group cohesion, such as valuing loyalty and respecting authority."

The next sentence is very interesting, "The research shows that contrary to public perception, atheists do have a moral compass, but compared with believers, "their compass is differently calibrated, possibly," according to the report, "due to factors such as how they were raised and whether they are highly analytical thinkers." That according to one of the lead researchers in the report. Now, the interesting thing here, is the fact that we're told that contrary to public opinion, atheists do have a moral compasses but it's different than that of believers in God.

Now, here's what we need to know, we have never made the argument, and we should never be caught making the argument, that anyone does not have a moral compass. The reality is, we understand that everyone has a moral compass, because everyone being made in God's image, has a moral knowledge and is driven by a basic moral sense that's going to take some kind of structure, some kind of ethical shape. Everyone of us is going to operate by some moral compass. But the discussion is often about whether or not atheists, or unbelievers, can be moral. And of course the answer is, of course. By a human comparison, they can live quite moral lives. Now, not by a biblical understanding where we understand that we have all sinned, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but we do nonetheless understand that the basic issue for Christians is not that atheists can't be moral, but that atheism can't sustain any authentic morality. And that's also something that is basically within the intuitions of most Americans, who have made very clear they're not eager to elect atheists to public trusts, such as public office.

But nonetheless, the differences that are articulated in this report, also turn out to be extremely interesting. The researchers tell us that virtually everyone, and includes atheists and believers, agree on the moral importance of issues such as caring and fairness, but there are differences, key differences. We're told that the differences between believers and disbelievers, come down to three values. Now, this is going to be really interesting. What three values mark the critical distinction in this research, between the moral compasses of believers and the moral compasses of non-believers, or atheists?

Well, the three differences come down to three words, authority, loyalty, and sanctity. Here's how the report tells us. The differences between believers and disbelievers, were found on authority, which is described as respecting authority figures such as police, parents and teachers. Loyalty, which is defined as being loyal to one's group, such as a perceived country, not burning a country's flag for instance, and sanctity, which means not doing anything perceived as degrading, usually in the sexual sense such as being promiscuous. So look at those three terms, authority, loyalty and sanctity.

Now here's one of the most important things we need to see. When you look at those three words, authority, loyalty and sanctity, at least the first and the third are really explicitly theological. The word authority is actually extremely theological, because we believe that the creator God, the sovereign over the universe, the self-revealing God of scripture, actually is the only ultimate authority and he wields all authority. All earthly authorities, are actually created by him, and are subservient to him. His word, the Holy Scriptures, is authoritative precisely because He is the author. You understand that authority can't be pressed back in an entirely atheist frame beyond a human being, and that means there's not much real authority there at all.

So in that distinction, which is reflected in this research, between the worldviews of believers and atheists, yes, it's perfectly understandable why believers would have a much higher interest in and commitment to authority than unbelievers, why authority would function in a much larger way in a believers worldview.

That last word was sanctity. Now wait just a minute, it's defined in this research as having to do with things perceived as degrading, that is avoiding them, and as mentioned in a sexual sense, that would mean sexual morality. But here's what we need to note, in its very essence, sanctity means holiness. Sanctity goes back to the Latin sanctus, which is the translation of the word holy, which is found both in the Old and New Testaments. The point is, when you're talking about holy, you're actually talking about God. No wonder there's a very low score of sanctity among atheists as compared to believers, because you really don't have any sanctity in the truer sense if you don't have the sacred, the sacred one, the sacred God. The God who reveals himself as the prophet Isaiah came to know as, Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts.

So as we look at this list of authority, loyalty and sanctity, authority and sanctity are actually theological terms, although neither the reporter for this particular science source, nor the researcher seems to know that, or at least to acknowledge that, but we do. But the second of the words was loyalty. Now, loyalty is defined in this research as being committed to a country or a group, and that would mean not burning a country's flag. Loyalty would mean concrete acts of association with the people to whom you belong. Now, loyalty is absolutely necessary to any kind of human society. If we don't have a basic loyalty to one another, human society can't happen. And I would argue that in a biblical worldview, by common grace, loyalty is pretty much distributed around, well, human beings wherever you find any kind of human society.

But it would be tempting to say that's not a theological category, but actually, rightly understood, it is a theological category because loyalty, if rooted simply in self-interest, doesn't last long. It's loyalty that is rooted in some form of love, well, that's a very different thing. But if you are talking about love, well, you are talking about a theological category. Hallmark and American Greetings might not recognize that, but Christians had better.

Part

The Gender Revolution’s Latest Victim? Mr. Potato Head — Hasbro Recasts the Mr. Potato Head Brand as Gender Neutral

But now as we come to the end of the week, I come to a topic I never expected to discuss on The Briefing, yes, I'm talking about Mr. Potato Head. I'm talking about the brand from Hasbro known as Mr. Potato Head, the iconic toy that is now being rebranded so to speak. Hasbro has announced that it's going to be changing the iconic toy to, "break away from traditional ideas about gender roles and family structures," that according to Taylor Telford of the Washington Post, the article cites Kimberly Boyd who works on the Mr. Potato Head brand at Hasbro as saying, "Culture has evolved. Kids want to be able to express their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists with the Mr. and Mrs., is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure."

Now, in some of the controversy that was revealed yesterday, it showed up on social media and otherwise, there was the accusation that, those who are bothered by this are making something out of nothing. And indeed, Hasbro felt some sting, because the brand came back to say that, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will continue to be Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, even as the general toy brand is changing." But if there was any reason to suspect that this is all about the LGBTQ revolution, it's because Hasbro told us and they're still telling us. In an actual company statement released yesterday, Hasbro said, "Hasbro is making sure all feel welcome in the Potato Head world, by officially dropping the Mr. from the Mr. Potato Head brand name and logo to promote gender equality and inclusion."

In other words, the statement is coming right from the company itself, and by the way, don't you love this corporate language? Maybe you didn't know that you were actually living in the Potato Head world.

Now there's some really interesting background to this toy, it's rooted deep in American history. Actually, it's about 70 years old, but what makes the brand particularly interesting, is that it was an advertisement for Mr. Potato Head that was recorded as the very first television advertisement directed to children rather than adults. The very first, let's just say. The television advertisers found out that children were watching television, because advertising directed towards children exploded after Mr. Potato Head, but that's a different story and it's another important issue. We're looking now at Mr. Potato Head himself, who was joined by Mrs. Potato Head, and they also in the toy arrangement had two children, and yes, their names were Spud and Yam. You really did need to know that.

In the report on this development that was published at the Washington Post, there was a very interesting section attributed to Neil Saunders, the managing director of retail at Global Data in New York. In other words, an analyst who looks at this kind of thing, and what he said was this, "Even thought there might be some pushback on this announcement from conservatives," he explained this, and well, he's explanation is just to fascinating to miss. He said, "A potato doesn't have a gender, and they're not saying the toy can't be male, female or anything else, they're just allowing the child or consumer to determine that for themselves."

The language there is frankly not only revealing, but just hilarious. We're being reminded that a potato didn't have a gender, just in case you woke up this morning confused about that issue. And we're being told that the company isn't saying that the toy, which after all is a toy potato, can't be male or female, or don't miss the words, anything else. But we're being told, that the child or consumer can determine that for themselves. The child or consumer, does that mean that there are consumers of Mr. Potato Head, who are playing with plastic potatoes who aren't children? Well, that's another moral crisis for America.

Of course, of course it's true that civilizations don't rise and fall on their toys, but it's also true, don't miss this, that our toys tell us about the direction about a civilization. And not only that, the direction that certain people are trying to push a civilization. And so yes, I never expected to be talking about Mr., or for that matter, Mrs. Potato Head, but now the story is that Hasbro's trying to say, "Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are still going to exist, but the brand, the Potato Head brand, is now going to be gender neutral, in this sense no more Mr. Potato Head because, as Kimberly Boyd who works on the brand at Hasbro said to the press, "Culture has evolved." Those pushing for the cultural revolution, now are going to be able to claim progress in a Potato Head.

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 got to boycecollege.com.

I'm speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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